Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
PUEBLO – Sometimes, the hole is too big, the gap a bit too wide.
The Ignacio High School girls basketball team put forth a furious fourth-quarter rally, but a rough shooting performance in the first half by the Bobcats helped Sangre de Cristo pull out a 54-45 victory over IHS in the consolation semifinals at the CHSAA Class 2A Girls Basketball State Championships on Friday at Massari Arena in Pueblo.
The Bobcats, down by 17 at the start of the fourth quarter, kept chipping away as the clock wound down, opening the quarter on an 8-3 run before eventually trimming the Thunderbirds’ advantage to 49-43 on a Pam Cotton 3-pointer with 59 seconds to go.
“Change up our defense and play harder. Our defense is our main game, and our defense creates our offense,” IHS sophomore guard Sky Cotton said of the rally. The Cottons are daughters of Fred and Jennifer Cotton.
Sangre de Cristo, however, would hit its free throws down the stretch to hold off Ignacio, ending the Bobcats’ first trip to the state tournament in 10 years and their season at 16-9.
The jitters that hit Ignacio early in Thursday’s loss to Akron appeared to have dissipated Friday. But the Bobcats’ shots simply refused to fall as they shot 2 of 13 from the field in the first quarter, while the Thunderbirds’ Abbey Stagner stunned them late in the first with six consecutive points to put Sangre de Cristo up 13-6 after the opening frame.
“(Stagner) got hot. From what we saw (Thursday) night of her, I didn’t expect that at all, for her to be that effective,” Whitt said. “And their team played a much more disciplined game than (Thursday) night.”
The shooting struggles continued into the second quarter as IHS hit 3 of 14 from the field, finishing the half 5 of 27 (18.5 percent), and the Bobcats hit just 10 of 21 from the free throw line in the contest.
While the Bobcats got a fair share of clean looks from the perimeter, Whitt said she was hoping her team would get into the lane more frequently.
“I don’t think we were being quite as aggressive as we needed to be to take the ball to the hole,” Whitt said. “And I told them we had to be aggressive (Friday). ... And we finally started doing that.”
In the second half, Michelle Simmons obliged, and the senior capped her high school career with an outstanding performance, finishing with a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double. She scored eight of her points in the fourth quarter as Ignacio fought back into a contest that seemed all but over at the start of the quarter.
Simmons said her late charge was driven by the fact it was a win-or-go-home situation.
“Just going out with a bang. I don’t think any of us wanted to go out with regrets, knowing we could’ve tried harder or worked harder,” said Simmons, daughter of Kelley Herrera.
Pam Cotton, playing with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee, capped her high school career with a 10-point performance, earning praise from Whitt for her gritty performance despite the injury.
Kathryn New finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunderbirds (23-3), while Stagner scored nine.
No. 4 Sangre de Cristo will play No. 3 Vanguard today for the consolation championship.
Despite the exit, the Bobcats managed to put together an impressive portfolio – San Juan Basin League regular-season champions, district champions, regional champions – a portfolio their first-year head coach is more than proud of.
“To make a comeback like that and to fight to the end, that’s all I can ask for from these girls,” Whitt said. “They had an amazing season – the best season in girls basketball history of Ignacio High School as far as racking up awards.”