Late surge not enough as Shiprock loses in 4A state title game
ALBUQUERQUE – A rough third quarter and a comeback effort that fell just short kept the Shiprock girls basketball team from its first state title since 2002.
The second-seeded Lady Chieftains were out-rebounded 17-4 in the third quarter, which led directly to a 10-point deficit to begin the fourth. They battled back, but No. 5 Hope Christian made enough late-game plays to spoil Shiprock's 4A state title hopes and win 51-48 on Friday at The Pit.
Shiprock's shooters came down to earth after an unreal week from the field. They shot 55 percent for the game in Thursday's semifinal, but shot only 30 percent against Hope Christian (22-9).
When they've struggled, the Lady Chieftains (31-4) have had a tendency to let poor jump shooting affect how many layups they hit. Shiprock coach Larenson Henderson said he saw that snowball effect take place on Friday.
"This is something that's bit us since the beginning of the year," he said. "We were hesitant to get inside, and when we got in there, we missed easy shots. You can't do that in a state title game."
It was anyone's game at halftime. Shiprock trailed Hope 29-26, but was ahead in the rebounding battle, 21-18. Both teams had committed six turnovers by the break.
Shontai Grey was Shiprock's best player at state this week, and she stayed hot in the first half of the title game with 14 points. But just like the rest of her team, Grey's production tailed off in the third quarter.
Grey scored only 3 points in the third and 6 total after halftime. She said Hope's defensive adjustments caused the dip in production.
"They switched out and put a guard on me," Grey said. "She was quicker than me, and it made it much harder to get to my spots on the floor."
Shiprock was outworked in the third quarter. Hope pulled down 10 offensive rebounds as part of its dominating performance on the boards in the frame. Henderson said he warned his girls to be prepared for a scrappier Hope team on the glass after the half.
"I told the girls that even their guards are going to get in there. It's something I couldn't emphasize enough," Henderson said. "They got those second and third attempts and made us pay."
The Lady Chieftains worked much harder in the fourth quarter after being outscored 14-7 in the third. The crowd, which was heavily pro-Shiprock, turned it up a notch, as well.
"This was the loudest game I've ever coached in," Hope Christian coach Terry Heisey said.
Crowd noise forced a pair of five-second inbound violations down the stretch, and Alyssa Harvey and Tia Woods helped the comeback attempt by scoring 8 combined points.
Shiprock got it all the way down to a 1-point deficit before Hope's Hanna Valencia took it upon herself to keep Shiprock at bay. She got to the line on back-to-back possessions and hit four straight free throws to give her team some breathing room inside of the three-minute mark.
But the Lady Chieftains kept fighting. Tanisha Begay made a tough bank shot to make it a 3-point game, and after a turnover, Grey sank a game-tying triple with less than 30 seconds left on the clock. The crowd erupted, but the joy would be short-lived.
Hope's Alivia Lewis caught a pass inside on an ensuing fast break and scored to give Hope the lead again at 50-48.
After Lewis split a pair of free throws, tight Hope defense forced junior guard Melanie Secody into a long 3-point attempt on Shiprock's final possession, one that bounced off the front of the rim.
At 6 feet tall with long arms, Lewis created a mismatch for Shiprock, and she exploited it by scoring 17 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.
Friday's game was the second time Hope beat Shiprock in a one-possession game this year. The Lady Huskies defeated the Lady Chieftains 45-43 on Jan. 16. Hope also bounced Shiprock from the state tournament last year with a 48-40 semifinal victory.
Shiprock was the 3A state runner-up in 2014 and 2011, and the 4A state runner-up in 2010.
Henderson will lose five seniors in Grey, Harvey, Keishonna Begay, Cassandra Peters and Lacey Howe. He said he thinks those girls, as well as the rest of his team, will be stronger for the loss.
"This game can be a roller-coaster ride, and that's what life is," he said. "But we've still got to push forward. There are going to be times where those moments are right in front of us, and we've got to concentrate and make the most of them. Since we didn't quite do that today, I think it's a good lesson for (the team)."
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.