The No. 8 Ignacio High School girls basketball team hadn’t played in a gym this loud, or this packed – sold out, in fact – since this time last year.
In the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 2A Region 8 semifinal matchup against No. 25 Rangely Friday night at Ignacio High School, the nerves got to the Bobcats a bit in the first half, and IHS was uncharacteristically off the mark with both its shooting and defense.
Down by two at the half, Ignacio head coach Justa Whitt brought out the team’s signature defense: The full-court press. It was an entirely different second half and the Bobcats forced plenty of turnovers en route to a 42-31 win.
“The press is what really did it, I think,” Whitt said. “We finally got a good combo going on, and at one point, I even thought that we needed to sub because of how tired we were, but they were doing so well and I didn’t want to change up the rotation, so it worked out fine.”
The Bobcats (16-6) got a huge contribution from freshman Avaleena Naneto, who had 10 points for Ignacio, which included back-to-back floaters to get Ignacio within two just before the break after it was down six.
“I realized that I had a lot of opportunities and was open. I just wanted to step up for my team,” Naneto said. “I was kind of nervous there, but I was ready to go in that second half.”
It was a rough first half for IHS, after it shot 3-of-12 in the first quarter, which included starting the game 0-of-7. Ignacio did not score until the 4:15 mark of the first quarter. Rangely (10-13) had a hot start on offense, as Kacie Lapp scored six out of her eight points in the second quarter. Skylar Thacker added another six points in the frame, which included a 3-pointer, and the Panthers went up six until Naneto’s final two baskets of the half.
“We just let up and in the third quarter, we’ve struggled with it from time to time all season long,” said Rangely head coach Jimmie Mergelman. “We had to find the bucket and score, but we couldn’t. Our defense got a little lazy a little bit, and it’s just what happens.”
The Bobcats outscored the Panthers 13-4 in the third quarter, which included a 10-0 run. During the run, Makayla Howell gave IHS its first lead of the game since it was 5-4 in the first quarter after she scored a layup to make it 22-20 with 4:55 remaining in the third quarter. Naneto added four in the frame.
“Avaleena really turned it on for us,” Whitt said. “I felt like she was a little rattled in the first half and I took her out for a minute. The big lights, the big stage, she’s not one who likes to be in the lights, but she is. She came back in and went to work. She’s not playing like a freshman and I’m very proud of her.”
Howell also thought the executions were much better in the second half.
“At half, coach just told us to keep fighting, and we knew we were in it; it was just a matter of executing a few plays and stepping it up on defense,” Howell said. “We weren’t going to give up, and especially being at home.
“We were just trying to settle in, it’s regionals; it’s intense. For a minute, we had ourselves psyched out there, but we woke up and figured it out.”
Howell finished with a game-high 11 points, while other contributors included Shelcie Gosney’s six, Charlize and Kiana Valdez’s five and Ebonee Gomez’s four. Thacker and Lapp each finished with eight for the Panthers, while Marlena Miller had seven.
Wray 54, Burlington 23In the other semifinals, the Eagles got off to a commanding lead and never looked back. No. 9 Wray got out to a 20-4 lead after the first quarter and extended it to 38-9 by halftime.
Wray head coach David Reed thought it was the start his side needed in a regional semifinal.
“We got some rest, which was nice, and we got a lot of contributions from across the board tonight,” Reed said. “We got off to an early lead, which helps us for tomorrow, but it’s going to be tough no matter what. We’re ready, we’re prepared and we’ve got a good balance of big girls. But Ignacio’s quickness and defensive abilities really are an area of concern, so all in all, it’ll be a good one.”
The Eagles (18-3) were led by Tabby Jones with 14 and Morgan Smith had 11. Burlington (10-14) was led by Megan Burghart, who had seven, while Cinthya Lachuga scored four.
The regional championship game will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at IHS.
Traveling near and farEach team in the regional is at least 20 miles or closer to a different state border. Ignacio is 10 miles from the New Mexico border, Rangely is less than 20 miles from the Utah border, Burlington is 12 miles from Kansas, while Wray is just 15 miles from Nebraska.