ALBUQUERQUE – The Kirtland Central girls basketball team’s season came to a close in the 4A state quarterfinals for the second straight season.
Throughout their game against Hope Christian, the Lady Broncos struggled to rebound out of their zone defense, allowing the Lady Huskies multiple second chances, as Hope Christian claimed a 53-44 victory Tuesday morning at The Pit.
“That was one of the biggest reasons for our loss,” KC head coach John Zecca said of the Lady Broncos’ rebounding woes. “It’s tough to rebound out of a zone, especially if you don’t have the size. They definitely had a size advantage on a us, and that’s part of why we had to play zone.”
Along with being outsized, Zecca said KC often got caught out of position, which allowed the Lady Huskies offensive rebounding opportunities.
Hope led 14-10 after the first quarter and opened the second on a 7-0 run to take a 22-10 lead. The No. 5 Lady Huskies (20-9) maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second quarter, but in the final minutes, KC got going and cut the deficit to 27-20 at halftime.
The No. 4 Lady Broncos (21-9) carried the momentum over from the end of the second quarter into the third, picking up the intensity to start the quarter on a 7-2 run and cut the deficit to 29-27 with 4:49 left in the quarter.
KC took the lead on two occasions in the third, but never extended it beyond 2 points.
But Hope regained the lead late in the quarter and took a 41-38 advantage going into the fourth quarter.
In the final frame, the Lady Broncos’ offense abandoned them as they went more than five minutes without making a field goal and watched Hope’s lead grow to 47-39.
“They’re a team that has a lot of pride, obviously, and they pride themselves on playing good, hard, man-to-man defense,” Zecca said of the Lady Huskies.
KC finally broke the drought with a 3-pointer from Deiondra Smith to make it a 47-42 game with 2:42 remaining.
Within striking distance in the final minutes, but needing extra possessions, KC began fouling. But the Lady Huskies made four of five free throws in the final minute — with the one miss resulting in an offensive rebound — to secure the victory.
Sophomore Haile Gleason led KC with 18 points. Smith and senior Krystal Sheka added 9 each, and senior Megan Silversmith ended with 6.
“I’m very grateful to be a part of the program for the past five years. I’m really sad it’s over,” Silversmith said through tears. “I’m really proud of my team and how everyone stepped up. I wish we could have gone further, but I’m really proud of everyone that I played with through the years.”
After the game, Zecca commended the senior Lady Broncos for the way they stepped up and battled through multiple bouts of adversity during the past few years, including the death of their former coach, Kevin Holman, during the 2013-14 season.
“A lot of people don’t realize they’ve had to go through a lot,” Zecca said, fighting back tears. “A lot of people doubted them and questioned their leadership — even I did at the beginning of the year. But I’ll tell you what, they changed. I’m proud of them.”
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.