IGNACIO – With the season on the line, the Ignacio High School girls basketball team turned to its senior captain Avionne Gomez.
Tied 23-23 in the closing seconds of the Class 2A Region 8 tournament, Ignacio’s Charlize Valdez knocked a Sanford inbound pass away, secured the ball and found Gomez with a pass. Gomez moved from the left side of the floor to the right and paused for a few seconds 30 feet from the basket on the right wing before she blew by her defender and scored with four seconds remaining to lift the No. 8 Bobcats to a 25-23 victory against No. 25 Sanford on Friday afternoon at IHS.
“I was holding the ball hoping (Sanford) would come foul me, then all I heard was coach Trae (Siebel) yell, ‘Go,’ so I just went for it,” Gomez said of the possession. “I saw it go in and was like, ‘Oh, shoot.’ Then all the girls were around me jumping on me.”
It was the only made field goal for Gomez, who finished with three points.
Sanford called timeout to preserve one final shot, but its half-court shot was too strong.
“The girls showed so much heart and so much fight. There was no quit in them,” said Siebel, the Bobcats’ head coach.
“Sanford is a great team – I don’t care what anyone says. They’re aggressive and get in your mug, exactly what I expected. ... I’m more proud of our team effort and their willingness to battle. At this level, nothing matters except moving on.”
The game was close from start to finish, as neither team found much success against the other team’s defense.
Throughout the game, Sanford (15-8) ran a high-pressure, man-to-man defense and swarmed anything that entered the post to keep the Bobcats (20-2) out of rhythm, while Ignacio’s 2-3 zone defense extended out to contest any shot the Indians put up.
“I felt like the girls gave it their best effort tonight. They battled and they hustled,” Sanford head coach Keith Caldon said.
“Ignacio is scrappy and they got after it, but I felt like we matched them. I think the game came down to turnovers and we had more turnovers than they had. We got some turnovers in the beginning of the game, but they shored up their ball-handling.”
Nerves and defense dominated the first quarter. In front of a packed gym, the Bobcats’ first five possessions ended with turnovers. They didn’t get their first shot of the game up for the opening 3 minutes, 20 seconds and made their first basket with 3:32 to go in the opening quarter.
“The majority of it was the nerves,” Seibel said of the first quarter’s turnovers.
“Our girls came out nervous. This was a huge crowd, one of the largest I’ve ever seen. It was nerve-racking for them, and for me, too.”
But the Bobcats never fell behind by more than four points, as their defense locked down the Indians and Sanford led 5-3 at the end of the first.
Ignacio kept the pressure up on the defensive end and used an 11-1 run going back to the first quarter to build a 12-6 lead late in the second quarter and led 12-9 at halftime.
Sanford opened the third quarter by scoring the first four points of the quarter to take a 13-12 lead. The lead change was the first of six in the back-and-forth quarter that ended with Ignacio ahead 20-17 after a late 3 from Kiana Valdez.
Sanford would tie the game at 20 early in the fourth, then tied it up again at 23 late in the quarter before Gomez made the winner.
Sanford’s Taylor Larson led the Indians with eight points and Karley Caldon added seven points.
Allisianna Baker-Marquez came off the bench and led Ignacio with eight points. Morgan Herrera, who fought foul trouble most of the game before she fouled out with 2:08 remaining, finished with six points.
The win moved the Bobcats into the regional final where they’ll face No. 9 Denver Christian (18-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday at IHS. Denver Christian beat No. 24 Paonia (14-8) 47-24 to reach the final.