Nez, Gleason lead Kirtland Central to OT win
Lady Broncos take care of the ball, hit big threes in overtime victory
KIRTLAND – The Kirtland Central girls basketball team got a big lift from its underclassmen in overtime on Saturday when the Lady Broncos badly needed someone to step up.
KC's starting backcourt of freshman Tiajhae Nez and sophomore Haile Gleason was outstanding in OT, leading the Lady Broncos to a 49-46 win over Valencia (8-4) at Bronco Arena.
Nez was a menace defensively with three steals. She also hit three triples on the day, including the game-winning 3-pointer in OT. Gleason, KC's leading scorer, notched a game-high 17 points and came away with a key offensive rebound and put-back basket in the extra frame.
Lady Broncos head coach John Zecca said he doesn't know where Kirtland Central (5-3) would be right now without its younger players.
"A lot of our younger kids are starting to play like they're veterans already," he said. "We're improving as a whole, and we're very happy to beat a team with a good record and some really good players."
The lead never got any larger than 5 points for either team in the neck-and-neck contest. The Lady Broncos committed only 10 turnovers on the day, which kept them within striking distance all afternoon.
The game was tied at 31 after three quarters, then Gleason hit a huge 3-pointer to extend KC's lead to 5 inside the game's final three minutes.
But Gleason also made a costly error, turning the ball over underneath Valencia's basket late in the fourth quarter, leading to a layup, foul and a successful 3-point play from Lady Jaguars point guard Destinee Vigil.
KC couldn't muster a shot on its final possession of regulation with the score knotted at 42.
But in overtime, the Lady Broncos' hustle shined.
KC pulled down three offensive rebounds on one possession halfway through OT, resulting in a Megan Silversmith layup and a 46-42 Kirtland Central lead with 1:28 to go.
Valencia then scored a quick bucket, got a stop and drained two free throws to tie the game again. That's when Nez hit the biggest shot of her young prep career.
With 12 seconds left, the freshman point guard caught a pass in the corner and, without hesitation, fired up what would be the final basket of the day and the game-winning 3-pointer. Zecca said Nez is showing a lot of promise already.
"Tiajhae did a good job of anticipating passes today, and she really took care of the ball for us after halftime," Zecca said of Nez. "She got kind of thrown into the starting role because of some injuries. She struggled a little bit at first, but she's been very poised lately. She's not playing like a freshman at all."
Valencia got a decent look from beyond the arc on its last possession of OT but missed the triple try as the final buzzer sounded.
Kirtland Central has won three games in a row after losing three out of four in early December. The Lady Broncos get nine days off before hosting Farmington (3-4) on Tuesday, Jan. 12.
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.