Shiprock tops Robertson 61-56 in 4A semifinal

Lady Chiefs' win sets up state final rematch with Hope Christian

Jake Newby

ALBUQUERQUE — The Shiprock girls basketball team will play for a state championship for the third time in four years.

Shiprock's Melanie Secody soars to the rim against Robertson on Thursday at The Pit in Albuquerque.

In today's 4A state semifinal game, No. 2 Shiprock drew a stiff challenge from a No. 3 Robertson team void of seniors. It took the Lady Chieftains more than four quarters to do it, but they were able to bump the Lady Cardinals from the tournament with a 61-56 overtime win at The Pit.

"You know, if it's going to come down to a shooting contest between both teams, I think we're going to win," Lady Chieftains coach Larenson Henderson said. "And that's how it went today."

Shiprock (25-5) actually didn't shoot the ball well as a team, connecting at just a 34 percent clip from the field for the game. But the shots the Lady Chieftains sank were big ones, and they got a clutch performance on a grand stage from their best player, Tanisha Begay.

Begay, a senior, wasn't quite ready to turn her attention toward her college career, as she put Shiprock on her back at times and finished with 24 points, six rebounds and three assists in the win.

Shiprock's Tiontai Woods drives to the basket against Robertson on Thursday at The Pit in Albuquerque.

Robertson used its superior size to bully the shorter Lady Chiefs on the glass early in the game, and that helped the Lady Cards (22-7) go up by 9 points in the first quarter. But Begay played the role of equalizer by dropping 11 first-half points and dishing out some nifty assists to help Shiprock rally to a 5-point lead by halftime.

After the game, Begay, who also buried four 3-pointers on the day, said she didn't make a concerted effort to take over the contest. She credited her teammates for giving her the opportunity to drop the gaudy stat line that she did.

"We had to bond as a team to get this win," Begay said. "There couldn't be any selfishness in this game. And most of all, it's a credit to my teammates, because they were the ones to pass the ball, and those were their assists and their rebounds that helped give me more chances."

After a deep and dramatic 3 by Melanie Secody as the third-quarter clock hit triple zeroes, Shiprock found itself ahead of Robertson by 4 points at the start of the fourth quarter.

Shiprock's Paige Dale muscles up a shot near the basket against Robertson on Thursday at The Pit in Albuquerque.

"I didn't even know where I was," said Secody, who had to fight off tight defensive pressure to create enough space to shoot.

Robertson kept fighting and took the lead three times in the final quarter.The inside-outside offensive effort from guard Maria Barela and center Angelica Montoya was crucial for the Lady Cards. Barela and Montoya scored 16 points apiece.

A clutch pair of made free throws by Paige Dale — who scored 15 points to go along with eight rebounds and a seven-for-nine free-throw clip for the game — tied it late in the fourth, and ensuing defensive pressure forced Robertson to turn the ball over on an eight-second back court violation.

Secody then tried to replicate her third-quarter buzzer-beating 3 at the end of regulation, but she launched an air ball that sent the game to overtime.

In the extra period, the Lady Chiefs were composed, while Robertson was anything but. Shiprock's only made field goal in OT came courtesy of a Dale layup, which was set up beautifully by a bounce pass through traffic from Begay.

But Shiprock got the job done from the charity stripe. The young Lady Cards committed a pair of unforced errors that forced them to foul and try to play catch-up as time ticked away. They set the Lady Chiefs up with 10 free-throw attempts in OT, of which Shiprock hit seven.

Hope Christian (28-2) opposes the Lady Chiefs in the state final at 3 p.m. Friday. The Lady Huskies have been Shiprock's nemesis the last two seasons, eking out a 51-48 win over the Lady Chieftains last year to secure the 4A state title, and eliminating them in the semis the year before that. In 2014, Shiprock lost to Portales in the 3A final.

Henderson respects Hope, but also believes his current bunch of players are capable of putting the Shiprock program over the hump.

"We've just got to get it done somehow," Henderson said. "As long as we show heart, I think anybody can take it."

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