IGNACIO – Ignacio High School girls basketball head coach Justa Whitt’s pregame pep talk before taking on Class 2A No. 4 Del Norte Tuesday night at IHS was short and to the point.
“Five fingers together makes a fist, and that’s a strong thing to break,” Whitt said. “We knew that if we were going to win, we had to play together like I know they can. It all came together tonight.”
The Bobcats pulled together and earned a 61-56 upset win over the Tigers. The win comes after IHS lost 53-50 on the road in January that featured a disproportionate amount of free-throws in favor of Del Norte.
On Tuesday, the Bobcats (11-5, 7-0 2A/1A San Juan Basin League) had its up-tempo offense jump-started by seven 3-pointers in the first half. The second half featured a more balanced approach, and it showed in the box score. Four Bobcats finished in double figures, as Avaleena Nanaeto led IHS with 15 points, Jayden Brunson had 12, all on 3-pointers, Makayla Howell had 11 and Monika Lucero had 10. Del Norte (13-2, 3-0 2A Southern Peaks League) was led by Kendra Parra with a game-high 18 points, but she fouled out with just over two minutes remaining in the game.
“Coming into this one, we knew that this would have to be the game where we all played together and they played as a team that they are,” Whitt said. “They’ve been looking for this revenge game since we played them before. The chemistry requires for all of them to play together, no matter if they are a starter or off of the bench. I’ve known all along that we can play like this, we just haven’t gotten there until tonight.”
It was a slow first few minutes as each team was getting a feel for the game. Whitt burned her first timeout with 3:10 remaining in the opening quarter. The Bobcats then rattled home four 3s, as Jayden Brunson and Monika Lucero each made two. Brunson hit her second of the game at the buzzer, and the Bobcats took a 20-12 lead after the first quarter.
In the second, the Bobcats opened with a jump shot to go up 22-10, and then the offense got cold. The Tigers went on a 10-0 run to get right back into the game to make it 22-20. From there, the pace quickly turned into a shootout. Ignacio found its offense once again, as the Bobcats continued to shine from beyond the 3-point line. Brunson made her third 3-pointer to give Ignacio a 25-22 lead, and her fourth of the half to make it 28-25. Still, the Tigers would not give in. Parra made a few baskets, and Kaeci Madrid scored an old-fashioned 3-point play. IHS sophomore Avalaeena Nanaeto ended the half strong with two steal-and-scores to give the Bobcats a 32-28 lead at halftime.
Ignacio continued to use its man-to-man, full-court press defense in the third quarter, which forced the Tigers into making difficult offensive decisions. Parra picked up her fourth personal foul with over three minutes remaining and it forced her to sit out for key possessions for the remainder of the game. As a result, IHS was able to be more aggressive and went after any loose ball or offensive rebound opportunity. The hustle was evident shortly after, as Lucero grabbed a loose ball, spun and found a cutting Brunson which gave IHS a 43-38 lead. The Tigers made a 3-pointer at the end of the quarter to cut the deficit to two at 43-41.
“We just have to play with a little more composure,” said Del Norte head coach Gilbert Sanchez. “I thought we came out in the second half a bit rushed, and it comes down to composure. I thought we did a good job of getting back into the game, but we needed to be better down the stretch.”
In the fourth, Del Norte briefly took its first lead since the first half after a pair of free throws at 45-43, only for Howell to answer with a long jump shot. Del Norte called a timeout with 5:50 remaining and a 47-45 lead.
That’s when Howell, the senior captain, stepped up. On opposite sides of the bench, she and Nanaeto worked out Ignacio’s next play calls to their teammates, and it worked. The two took over. Howell and Nanaeto combined to score Ignacio’s next 12 points, which included two 3-pointers and three baskets from Howell in the paint.
“I have chemistry with most of the girls, and I read their eyes,” Nanaeto said. “I don’t know, but I just know where they’ll be. I was looking for Makayla a lot down at the end. I wanted to bring it all out for my team.”
For Howell, who was held scoreless in the first half, she made an adjustment to get the ball down low and was determined to assert herself.
“Me and Avaleena have that eye contact on court, and it was great in the second half,” Howell said. “I started off slow and I didn’t really make anything in the first half and started focusing on assists. In the fourth quarter, I knew my defender had gotten tired, and I told my guards to look underneath. That’s where I got my points at.”
IHS ended the game on an 11-5 run, and after the Tigers cut it to five with 15 seconds left, the Bobcats were able to dribble out the clock.
The Bobcats will host Ouray (1-11, 1-6 SJBL) at 2 p.m. Saturday for senior day.
Boys basketballThe Class 2A No. 6 Ignacio boys basketball team got everyone involved in Tuesday’s 90-57 win at IHS.
Bryce Finn, Brady McCaw and Gabe Tucson all scored 15 points to lead the Bobcats (13-2, 8-0 SJBL), while Ignacio head coach Chris Valdez emptied his bench and every player played in the win.
“We haven’t shot the ball well, but we did so tonight, and we needed a convincing win,” Valdez said. “That’s what we do best. We struggled defensively early on and that’s going to be a focus in the next few days. We have to shut people down so that we don’t have to score as many points. We all have to contribute and it doesn’t matter who it is to me, and they’re starting to believe that it doesn’t matter to them. That’s what’s important.”
IHS will host Ouray (9-4, 4-3 SJBL) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.