Shiprock slams KC for District 1-4A crown

Tanisha Begay scores 21 points, is named MVP of District 1-4A

Jake Newby
The Shiprock Lady Chieftains celebrate their victory over Kirtland Central in the District 1-4A Tournament championship game Friday at the Chieftain Pit in Shiprock.

SHIPROCK – For the second consecutive season, the Shiprock girls basketball team has conquered Kirtland Central for the District 1-4A championship.

This year's title game was a lot less competitive than last year's 73-62 Shiprock victory, as the hosts used a monstrous 30-point third quarter to topple KC 64-43 on Friday at the Chieftain Pit.

Since falling to the Lady Broncos on Jan. 29, Shiprock (26-3) has beaten them three times in less than a month. Still, until the third quarter began on Friday, Lady Chieftains coach Larenson Henderson said he didn't feel like his team had got into the rhythm he knows it is capable of generating at any point in the other three battles this season with the Lady Broncos (20-8).

"In the Monday game in Gallup, I saw them start to get into their comfort zone, and then they really got loose tonight," Henderson said. "We finally caught fire against them. I was just waiting for it."

The Lady Chieftains took a 23-18 lead into halftime, and when they returned from the locker room, Tanisha Begay took over the game. Shiprock's junior guard hit two 3-pointers in the first minute and a half of the third quarter, a frame in which she tallied 14 points. She did not miss a shot in the second half and finished with a game-high 21 points.

"We had to substitute her early on because she made a couple of bad passes," Henderson said. "I told her that her options would open up if she played smarter with the basketball. And sure enough, they did."

Kirtland Central had no answers for Begay, who tore through its man-to-man defense. On the other side of the court, the Lady Broncos' Haile Gleason — the team's leading scorer during the regular season — was held scoreless. The Lady Chieftains applied a box-and-one defense on Gleason early on, which KC coach John Zecca said he thought the rest of his girls made them pay for.

Shamika Benally, in particular, took advantage of the extra attention paid to Gleason. Benally scored nearly half of KC's points with 17 and accounted for five of her team's six 3-pointers.

But Benally didn't receive nearly enough help from her teammates, and once Shiprock got into its groove in the third, KC's offense fell apart, Zecca said.

"Sometimes, we get in the mode where our shoulders start to slump, and everyone's looking for someone else to step up," Zecca said. "It's got to be a team effort."

Shiprock outscored the visitors 30-10 in the third quarter and turned the ball over only four times in the game to KC's 12.

Tanisha Begay was named the most valuable player of District 1-4A after the game. She, along with teammates Tia Woods, Shontai Grey and Paige Dale, were named first-team all-district. KC's Benally, Gleason, Krystal Sheka and Deiondra Smith, as well as Bloomfield's Destiny Walther and Kara Watchman, also were selected to the team.

Shiprock's Paige Dale gets fouled by Kirtland Central's Jerica Holiday on Feb. 26 at the Chieftain Pit in Shiprock.

The girls teams in 1-4A will now have six days off before the state tournament starts on Friday. Shiprock and KC are both expected to draw an opening-round home game. Henderson said he thinks his team has earned the No. 1 seed over 22-3 Portales.

"Portales played a lot of out-of-state teams. I just don't think they stayed around here enough," he said. "We were told last year that we played in Arizona too much, and that's what put us down a seed, and I hope that's what happens with (Portales) this year."

The New Mexico Activities Association will release the state tournament bracket some time Sunday afternoon.

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