Haile Gleason paces Lady Broncos with 17 points while Talia Ockerman follows with 14
KIRTLAND — The Kirtland Central girls basketball team loves to keep games interesting.
Over and over again this season, the Lady Broncos have allowed teams to put together comeback efforts in the fourth quarter, letting double-digit leads shrink to a few points. Tonight's 51-42 win against Del Norte in the first round of the 5A state tournament was no different.
After dominating the third quarter, the Lady Broncos took a 40-24 lead into the fourth quarter. But over the opening one minute and 13 seconds of the fourth, KC allowed Del Norte to go on a 10-0 run.
The No. 10 Lady Knights got within 4 points on a few occasions and had the deficit at 45-41 with 1:15 remaining before the seventh-seeded Lady Broncos closed out the win.
"I think we just let our mistakes get to us, and (Del Norte) started to build off of that," KC freshman Talia Ockerman said. "But we finally pulled though and got the lead back toward the end."
In the first quarter, KC and Del Norte both struggled to overcome their nerves. Open shots that are normally made with regularity didn't fall, and silly turnovers were common.
"I think both teams were a little nervous, but it was definitely the case with us," KC coach John Zecca said. "A couple of times, we drove into the lane and lost the ball for no reason. We had a shootaround before the game, and I was hoping that would calm their nerves a little bit. It did help a little bit, but, of course, they're going to be nervous."
The Lady Broncos were first to push aside the nervous energy to get their offense going and took a 23-14 lead into halftime.
"We calmed down once we started coming together as a team, and scoring a little at the end of the first quarter and start of the second quarter," Ockerman said.
During the third quarter, Del Norte went to a full-court press that put a lot of pressure on KC's inbound passes. But once the Lady Broncos broke through the initial pressure, they found open lanes for transition layups.
While the offense picked its way through the Lady Knight defense, KC sophomore Shayonna Begay thwarted Del Norte's offensive attack, recording three blocks in the third quarter while grabbing a number of rebounds that started KC's fast break.
"Her versatility is huge for us, and she's probably our best rebounder," Zecca said of Begay. "She does a good job of grabbing rebounds, and when she does, she's able to dribble out of pressure. She gets a lot of court time because she's really able to play a lot of different positions."
Haile Gleason led KC with 17 points. Ockerman finished with 14, nine of which came in the second half.
The win moves the Lady Broncos into the 5A quarterfinals and a trip to The Pit in Albuquerque to face No. 2 Los Lunas at 4:45 p.m. Tuesday.
"I'm excited to go out there and get the experience of playing in The Pit," Ockerman said. "It's always exciting to get to see all the other teams from all the different divisions."
Navajo Prep 59, Silver 44
Navajo Prep put together maybe its best game of the season when it was needed most, upsetting No. 7 Silver 59-44 tonight in Silver City to advance to the 4A quarterfinals.
"My girls, they played awesome tonight," Prep coach Rainy Crisp said. "Everyone stepped up and played great."
On offense, the No. 10 Lady Eagles cut down on turnovers, which have plagued them all season, while the defense was aggressive from the opening tip and created a lot of turnovers.
Crisp said Harlei Haceesa and Martinique Larvingo had huge games, and Savannah Anderson and Sequoia Wilson played great in the post.
Prep will face a familiar foe in the quarterfinals, matching up with No. 2 Shiprock at 3 p.m. Tuesday at The Pit in Albuquerque.
Albuquerque Academy 39, Farmington 35
No. 13 Farmington had a chance to stun the state and upset No. 4 Albuquerque Academy, but the Lady Scorps couldn't find a way to pull out the win and fell 39-35 in double overtime tonight during the first round of the 5A tournament in Albuquerque.
"I thought the girls did a good job of handling the pressure. We put ourselves in a position to win several times, but unfortunately, we couldn't capitalize," Farmington coach Brady Rivers said.
Rivers added that senior Philinda Nez did a great job leading the team and did her best to will the team to a victory while Celeste Coolidge was great defensively.
Rivers said he hopes the tough loss will help motivate the players set to return to the program next year.
"The girls overcame a lot of adversity this season," Rivers said. "There was a stretch where we lost seven out of eight games and were out of the state tournament, but the girls fought and finished 5-5 in district to get the 13 seed. I'm really proud of these girls."
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.