Kirtland Central rolls over Bernalillo, earns 20th state championship
ALBUQUERQUE — The Kirtland Central High School girls basketball team added another chapter to their legacy as the most decorated prep basketball team in the state of New Mexico, winning their 20th title Friday night in a 55-32 romp over Bernalillo High School at University Arena in Albuquerque.
Led by an outstanding performance from senior Aisha Ramone, the Lady Broncos earned their first state title since 2012 and a first state championship as head coach for Kirtland Central graduate Devon Manning.
The Lady Broncos led from start to finish in the title game, extending a nine-point lead at the end of the first half and heading into the final quarter with a 42-22 lead.
The Lady Broncos got big efforts from both starters as well as bench players, much as they did in their semifinal win Thursday night over Portales.
For the second time in as many games, the Lady Broncos found themselves in a bit of foul trouble, with leading scorer Aisha Ramone picking up a pair of personal fouls within the first three minutes of the game.
With Ramone on the bench for the rest of the first quarter and into the early moments of the second quarter, the Lady Broncos got strong efforts off the bench from Adriona Nargo and Jaylene Harris-Rhea.
"When (Ramone) got those two quick fouls, it was time to go back to our strength, which has been our depth," Manning said. "There's a lot of minutes out there that don't show up in the stat sheet, but that little run where she wasn't out there really helped us."
When Ramone did return to the court later in the second quarter, Kirtland Central got their offense moving, with a 9-0 run led by Ramone, Tymeika Johnson and Emilia Clani that gave Kirtland a 14-point advantage with just a bit more than a minute to play in the half.
Bernalillo caught a little offensive flourish late in the half, going into the locker room trailing by a score of 25-16.
Ramone and Teghan Begay each led the Broncos with seven points apiece at the break, while Gabby O'Hara scored six points for the Spartans to go along with Juliana Aragon and Nizhoni Keeto, who had five points apiece.
Head coach Devon Manning, in his fourth season on the job with Kirtland Central, is familiar with winning titles as a Bronco. From 2001 to 2003, Manning was a part of three straight state boys championship teams at Kirtland Central.
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"I think winning it as a player was awesome, but there's something really special winning this as a coach," Manning said. "It's a little more emotional, just to see them so happy and see their hard work pay off in the end."
Ramone wound up leading all scorers with 23 points on the night, shooting 7-for-13 from the field and 7-of-9 from the free throw line. She also recorded eight steals, which obviously aided Kirtland Central's 26-10 point advantage over Bernalillo in points off turnovers.
"This is the best defensive performance we've ever had," Manning said. "So many players were just awesome in that capacity."
Eight other players scored points on the night for the Broncos, including Begay and Nargo, who scored seven points apiece. For Ramone, playing in her final basketball game at Kirtland Central, the spotlight was clearly shining on her.
"I don't know if I'll ever have another player like her," Manning said of Ramone. "She does so many things for the team, and she's already proven herself to be the best player in the district. During these last four games, she's proven to me she's the best 4A player in the state."
The game was marred a bit by one violent incident, which occurred with less than 30 seconds remaining on the clock.
With the outcome of the game well in hand and Kirtland Central having gone to their bench, senior Lovelia Murphy was grabbed around her neck and thrown down onto the court by Keeto, who was justifiably ejected from the contest.
The Lady Broncos finish the season with a record of 27-5. They came into the Class 3A tournament as the top seed after winning both the District 1-4A title as well as their district tournament.
Bernalillo came into the tournament as the three-seed and finished the season with a record of 28-2, their only losses coming in the state final and in a district game on the road last month to Hope Christian.
In other girls state championship action Friday, the top-ranked Robertson Cardinals won the girls Class 3A championship, thanks to an 18-point night from senior Jayden Jenkins, topping Santa Fe Indian School by a final of 37-31.
Robertson, who led the game from nearly start to finish, completed the season with a record of 28-1, and have won their second state title in the last four years.
Coached by Jose Medina, the Lady Cardinals were also aided in victory by junior Mistidawn Roybal, who knocked down several late free throws after taking a pair of hard fouls in the game's final minutes.
Santa Fe Indian School, who came into the Class 3A tournament as the three-seed, and had a brief three-point lead early in the fourth quarter, finishes their season with a record of 21-6.
In the Class 5A finals, top-ranked Volcano Vista (29-0) opened up an early lead and finished off a perfect season and a second straight state title with a convincing 49-32 victory over second-seeded Hobbs.
Coached by Lisa Villareal, the Lady Hawks were led on the court by Jaelyn Bates (18 points) and Taejhuan Hill (12 points and 10 rebounds), completing a second straight unbeaten season. Last year, Volcano Vista went 13-0 during an abbreviated campaign. The team hasn't lost a game since the 2020 state championship game, which they lost to Hobbs by a final of 58-43.
For a complete glance at the girls basketball tournaments, check out the official page at MaxPreps.
Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680.