IGNACIO – The Ignacio High School girls basketball team could see another Colorado High School Activities Association Class 2A state tournament appearance on the horizon, as the Bobcats were up seven with 6 minutes, 42 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter with a raucous home crowd ready to cheer IHS down the stretch. The Wray Eagles had other ideas and weathered the storm.
No. 9 Wray (19-3) clawed back from the depths of defeat and held on in overtime for a 43-39 win against the No. 8 Bobcats in the Class 2A Region 8 championship game to book a ticket to the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland next week.
“The effort that these girls gave today was undeniable, and they played their hearts out,” said IHS head coach Justa Whitt. “On defense, I told them before the game that they had to act like little gnats and disrupt everything, and we really did that. Yeah, we had a couple of breakdowns, but that’s going to happen when you’ve got two big girls like they do.
“Everybody had their moment, which included myself. I had a little rattlebrain at the end, as well, but we haven’t had a chance to play a game where we’re tight all season. That factor does hurt when you get down to the end and you haven’t had that experience. Credit to Wray for making the plays they needed to, but I’m so proud of how we played with so much heart all year long.”
Junior guard Makayla Howell led Ignacio with nine points, while sophomore forward Ebonee Gomez had seven, and freshman Avaleena Nanaeto had six. Two players finished in double figures for Wray; Abbey Shay and Taby Jones each had 10. Jones went 5-of-6 from the free-throw line on Saturday after going just 3-of-13 in the district tournament last week. Six-foot-1 forward Morgan Smith had six, all of which came in the second half, in addition to five blocks.
Ignacio (16-7) came out firing from beyond the arc, as it hit five 3-pointers, including two in the fourth quarter, but could not make the most from the free-throw line, as thr team was just 2-of-8. Wray was able to get to the line much more frequently. Though the Eagles made only 12-of-23 in the game, they went 6-of-8 in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Wray climbed back through its seniors Bridgette Redden and Smith. The Eagles have made the Great 8 in each of the last four seasons. Despite losing seven seniors from last year’s team that took third place, Wray head coach David Reed said his side didn’t panic.
“We just made a few more plays at the end, got a few stops and knew we had to keep fighting,” Reed said. “We just had to not worry about the score and take it possession by possession. We gave ourselves a chance at the end. I think Taby (Jones) exemplified our comeback today. She was really the reason we were able to take that next step today. She made some good plays, was fighting and rebounding and helped us get back in it.
“This one’s special, really, and I’m going to get emotional, but we lost seven seniors, and we’re thinking rebuild, rebuild. The kids really played, and we’re giving ourselves a chance, and I think we’re as good as anybody.”
Late in regulation, Wray responded by going on a 6-0 run with two baskets from junior point guard Abbey Shay and got another basket from Taby Jones to cut it to just one possession.
The Bobcats responded with a 3-pointer from Kiana Valdez – her only basket of the game – which put them back up by four with 3:52 remaining.
Wray answered back with a key basket and the foul from Redden, and Jones tied the game at 35 with 2:49 remaining.
Gomez hit a corner jumper to give the Bobcats a two-point lead, and it would be frantic finish from there.
Ignacio went 0-of-3 at the foul line down the stretch, including when Nanaeto missed a pair with 20.8 seconds remaining that would have given IHS a four-point lead.
Instead, the Eagles forced overtime when Jones drove the lane and was fouled and made both free throws. The final shot by IHS was off the mark, and an extra period was needed with the score tied at 37.
“Coach pressures us in practice; we shoot a lot of free throws,” Smith said. “He says games come down to free throws and layups, and today was definitely that.”
In overtime, IHS was unable to get the same looks it had inside the post after the Eagles clasped down low and were able to step up their rebounding game, something that Ignacio had handled well before that point. Nanaeto hit the only basket of the period with under one minute remaining, while Jones, Smith and Shay delivered timely free throws and a basket for the Eagles.
When the final buzzer sounded, Ignacio players consoled each other after a hard-fought battle and thanked the home fans for the season-long support.
“We never give up,” Howell said. “That’s the kind of team we are, and we’re going to play until somebody tells us to stop, and that’s our job. We played hard today. It just came down to a few missed shots and the little mistakes that really got us there, and, in the end, it was the finishing that killed us.”
This will be the first time since the 2016-17 season that the Bobcats will not travel to the state tournament, but Whitt said they will be back sooner rather than later.
“I think we’re going to take this game and learn from it,” Whitt said. “I’m sad for our seniors who will be leaving us, but we’ve got a whole new group who comes back next year, and we’ll start building on that.
“In the locker room after the game, I told them that their job is to now work on their individual skills from now until next season to get us in the place we need to be. If we get the chance to be in this same position next year, we’ll be ready.”
Pine River Times sports reporter Joel Priest contributed to this firstname.lastname@example.org