Lady Chieftains overcome double-digit deficit in third quarter to defeat Hope Christian 47-42 and win first state title in 15 years
ALBUQUERQUE — The Shiprock girls basketball team could not have scripted a better way to capture its first state championship since 2002.
The Lady Chieftains (26-5) overcame a double-digit, third-quarter deficit to defeat Hope Christian — the team that eliminated Shiprock from each of the past two state tournaments — 47-42 today at The Pit.
"I'm really overwhelmed with emotion right now," Shiprock's Larenson Henderson said after winning his first title in five years as head coach.
Shiprock, the No. 2 seed, played tentatively and without much passion for the better part of three quarters until a lightning-fast 4-0 run at the end of the third sparked a momentum shift. After Tanisha Begay made two free throws, the Lady Chiefs stole an inbound pass, and Paige Dale hit a layup to give the well-traveled Shiprock fans something to cheer about heading into the fourth quarter.
The Lady Chiefs’ fan section didn’t let up in the fourth, and the girls fed off that energy with a 20-9 fourth-quarter rally against Hope (28-3), the No. 1 seed.
"I think it was just a matter of keeping our heads," Shiprock senior Melanie Secody said.
After shooting just 22 percent in the first half, Shiprock shot 50 percent in the last two quarters.
"I always tell the girls, if we're going to go out, we're going to go out shooting," Henderson said. "I have some great shooters. I didn't think Hope could cover all of us. From our forwards to our guards, anybody can shoot the 3. ... We look for each other well, and when it comes to getting inside, we were able to get it inside and then kick it back out when we needed to for some of them big 3s."
Eighth-grader Tiontai Woods, Dale and Begay each buried key triples in the fourth.
Woods split a pair of free throws with a little more than three minutes to go in the fourth quarter, giving the Lady Chiefs a 38-37 lead, their first since the opening minutes of the contest.
Shiprock let Hope take back the lead a couple of possessions later, but then regained the lead for good at the 1:07 mark, courtesy of Dale's 3 from the wing, which put Shiprock up 41-40.
Senior Tierra Clichee then etched her name in Shiprock girls basketball lore by stealing the ball on Hope's next two possessions. Clichee, who didn't score in the game but had eight rebounds and the two pivotal swipes, was overcome with emotion after the game.
"I was freaking out, because I knew we had to get the ball and hold it," Clichee said, before breaking down in tears. "It feels good."
Secody was also vital to the state title win, shooting six for six from the free-throw line in the game's final minute as Hope tried to come back from 5 and 6 points down.
"We practiced free throws this morning for about 40 minutes at (Albuquerque Academy High School) before we came here," Henderson said. "And it paid off."
Secody and Dale — Shiprock's second- and third-leading scorers this season — had only 3 points combined by halftime but finished with 8 points apiece.
Begay, who had a game-high 22 points and shot 10 of 11 from the free-throw line in the last high school game of her career, said she couldn't have dreamed of a better way to go out.
"I think it's just unbelievable, because I played with a team that had so much heart. We didn't give up," Begay said. "When we were in the locker room, I (saw) it on their faces — there was still something inside of them. I'm so grateful I got to play with a group of girls that were like that."
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.