Piedra Vista tops Kirtland, improves to 7-0

Wright, Benally come up clutch in the game's final two minutes

Jake Newby

KIRTLAND – Things got scary late in the game for the Piedra Vista girls basketball team, but the Lady Panthers ultimately found a way to escape Bronco Arena with a win over host Kirtland Central on Thursday.

Piedra Vista's Nykki Benally goes up for a shot against the Kirtland Central defense at Bronco Arena Thursday in Kirtland.

The Lady Broncos (2-3) got off to a rough start before making a game of it and took multiple leads late in the fourth quarter. But the visitors were clutch down the stretch defensively and from the free throw line, and managed to pick up the 50-45 win to improve to 7-0 on the season.

“Overall, I thought the girls played all right. We had a bad shooting night, but that’s a credit to Kirtland’s defense,” PV coach Joe Reed said. “Late in the game, Elli (Wright) was frustrated. Her shots weren’t falling, and she came to me and apologized. I told her the shot of the game was her shot from the elbow with about a minute left.”

Wright scored 13 points in the game and also came away with two key steals on Kirtland’s final two possessions to seal it. Nykki Benally scored a game-high 20 points, going 10 for 11 from the free throw line and 6 of 6 in the fourth quarter.

The game looked like it might be a blowout after the opening quarter, as PV took a 17-5 lead into the second. But the visitors stumbled a bit in the middle two quarters.

Turnovers and a lack of execution on offense plagued PV for a big chunk of the night. The Lady Panthers also let Kirtland — specifically sophomore Haile Gleason — get loose in transition off of rebounds and turnovers for a bunch of easy buckets.

KC coach John Zecca said Gleason, who scored a team-high 18 points, has a nose for transition offense.

“We tell the girls to make sure they’re boxing out, and once we get that rebound to go ahead and release,” Zecca said. “Haile’s smart about getting out and running as soon as we grab the rebound. She does a really good job of doing that, and it puts a lot of pressure on the defense.”

Gleason converted a 3-point play after making a basket in the lane midway through the third quarter to give KC its first lead of the night at 30-27. The game turned into a seesaw battle at that point.

The Lady Broncos’ ability to continually score in transition put them ahead late in the fourth quarter, and with the game tied at the 1:30 mark, Shamika Benally drained a 3-pointer to give Kirtland the 45-43 lead. But it would be KC’s last points of the game.

Kirtland Central's Haile Gleason drives to the basket against Piedra Vista's Joelle Quintana in the second half of Thursday's game at Bronco Arena in Kirtland.

Wright came down and hit what Reed called the shot of the game on the next possession, and PV managed to force turnovers and hit its free throws inside the game’s final minute to secure the win.

Zecca said his team has been struggling to score and to take care of the ball lately, and both of those issues were on display down the stretch of Thursday’s game.

“The last two or three games, I don’t know what it is, but we just can’t make any shots,” he said. “We’ve gotta be a little smarter with the basketball, too. We can’t rush like we did tonight.”

PV will be tested again when it visits Shiprock (4-1) tonight. Kirtland Central will also have its hands full next time out when it takes on Los Lunas (2-1) at home on Friday, Dec. 18.

Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.