SHIPROCK — The runners-up in their respective classes a season ago, the Shiprock and Gallup girls basketball teams matched each other basket for basket for much of the day today until the Lady Chieftains pulled away late.
Shiprock, which narrowly lost to Hope Christian in last season's 4A state final, missed a lot of shots in the game, but made them when it counted. The hosts used a 28-14 fourth-quarter run to put Gallup away and win 83-65 at the Chieftain Pit.
"We made shots in the second half more than we did in the first half," Shiprock coach Larenson Henderson said. "Maybe that was a little more jitters and stuff. A lot of our players stepped up right there in the second half."
Recent Fort Lewis College commit Tanisha Begay set the tone for what should be a remarkable statistical senior season by scoring 29 points. She was 5 for 6 from the free-throw line and nailed four 3-pointers, including a key one late in the game to put her team ahead by 15.
Begay has been a standout for Shiprock for as long as she's been on the varsity team. But her body language and improved ability to slow the game down so far this fall has caught the eye of Henderson.
"That was awesome, I've been waiting three years for that," Henderson said of Begay's overall performance. "I'm really proud of her because the one thing I told her this year is, 'I hope you lead this team. Be respectful to (teammates) and demand respect so that way they're gonna be there for you.' That's all I'm looking for, is her having a great attitude and showing great leadership for us this year."
Shiprock's bench played a major role in the win, first by allowing the Lady Bengals to build a 9-point lead in the opening frame, and then by making multiple key plays during the hosts' explosive final quarter.
Big baskets by Begay and Shiprock reserve Tayya Dale helped the Lady Chiefs close that early gap and make it a 1-point game after the first quarter.
Gallup, the 5A runner-up last season, took another 1-point lead into halftime. The Lady Bengals staved off Shiprock for more than two quarters of action by playing unselfishly and getting contributions from everybody; six different players scored for Gallup in the second, led by Kalisha Kinsel's 6 points.
The bench began to come alive for Shiprock late in the third quarter. The Lady Chiefs received timely buckets from Dale, Kimora Tso and Chamika Begaye down the stretch. Henderson said the bench players just needed some time to warm up.
"That was the first part of it, was getting their shoes wet in the first half," Henderson said. "I think once they got a taste of it and came in after halftime, they felt comfortable after that."
Ahead by just 4 to start the final frame, Shiprock went on a huge 14-0 run, led by Paige Dale and her 9 fourth-quarter points. The senior was also perfect from the free-throw line in the fourth, hitting all five of her attempts from the charity stripe.
Tayya Dale, who missed all of last season with an ACL injury, finished with 20 points off the bench for Shiprock. Paige Dale chipped in with 13 points.
The Lady Chiefs don't play again until after Thanksgiving when they visit Bloomfield for their first road game on Nov. 29.
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.