DOVE CREEK - When the Lady Bears made their fourth quarter run to get within one, the Lady Bulldogs stepped up.
A 42-33 Dove Creek lead shrunk to 44-43 with 2 ½ minutes to go after Dolores center Sam Tate scored inside.
One by one, a Lady Bulldog stepped to the free-throw line. And one by one, the Lady Bulldogs knocked them down.
Dove Creek sank 11-of-14 free throws down the stretch to hold off rival Dolores, 53-47, in front of a spirited home crowd Thursday night.
"A game like we played tonight, will do us good at the district tournament," veteran Dove Creek coach Jim Buffington said. "If we play like this, we can get in that (district) championship next week."
The Lady Bulldogs (10-8, 3-5 1A San Juan Basin League) played classic Buffington ball. Trailing 17-7 early in the second quarter, Dove Creek fought back with hardnosed defense. Double teams led to steals. Crashing the boards and throwing an outlet pass led to a quick pace half court offense. Driving the lane and forcing fouls to earn points the hard way.
That's Buffington ball.
"Dove Creek, they're well coached and scrappy. They played really well," said first-year Lady Bears coach Tim Kercher. "It was a tough game. We played hard and we played to the end. I told my girls to keep their heads up. We got districts next week."
Dolores (14-5, 6-2 2A SJBL) looked shaken at first by the Lady Bulldogs physicality. Lexi Atkinson was forced to sit much of the first half with foul trouble. The Lady Bears' other senior superstar, Cydney McHenry, had to carry the torch on this night.
A driving runner by McHenry put Dolores on top 19-11. But on the next possession, Cori Guynes grabbed a steal and went coast-to-coast for 2.
Dove Creek's next trip down, twin sister Jessica Guynes hit the front end of a 1-and-1. The second free pitch missed, but Madison Young was there to clean the glass and lay it in.
Just like that, the Lady Bulldogs were only down 19-16.
McHenry scored back-to-back buckets to give the visitors a 23-18 lead. Another driving layup made it 25-21 Dolores, but the Lady Bears couldn't pull away.
Dove Creek's sister act closed out the half.
Cori Guynes sank a 15-footer. Then, Jessica Guynes picked Atkinson's pocket, threw to Cori, then Cori passed back to Jessica and she scored the easy deuce. The crowd was in a frenzy with the game tied at 25. Dove Creek's roof blew off when Jessica Guynes hit Young for a wide open jumper that Young swished before the second quarter horn.
A pumped up Lady Bulldogs squad had its first lead of 27-25 at halftime.
Dove Creek built a 7-point lead in the third quarter and led 40-33 heading into the fourth.
Dolores got down nine points after another Cori Guynes steal and layup. With a refreshed Atkinson back in the game, the sharpshooter nailed two 3-pointers after a McHenry steal and layup.
Dove Creek's lead was just 44-41 and later whittled to a single point after Tate's basket in the paint.
However, the Lady Bulldogs forced fouls and made their free throws to thwart Dolores' comeback. As a team, Dove Creek sank 20-of-29 at the charity stripe.
"If you got to point something out, free throws," Buffington said. "What helped us too, besides them free throws; we got some offensive rebounds to give us a second chance (to score)."
McHenry led the way with a game high 26 points, while Atkinson had 12.
"It was a really good game to have the week before districts in a way," McHenry said. "It's something we can learn from. We're going to have to go into next week improving upon this, knowing that we're going to see tougher competition these next two weeks."
Cori Guynes paced Dove Creek with 16 points. Young recorded a double-double of 13 points and 16 rebounds. Shelbie Knuckles tallied 10 points.
"It felt really good. We wanted to win our last home game of the season," Cori Guynes said. "We had a really rough first half, but we really pulled through and stepped it up. We showed good restraint by taking the ball up slowly and making good passes. We did good blocking out and getting the rebounds."
The Lady Bulldogs played at Telluride on Friday. Results weren't available at press time. Dove Creek travels to Olathe next week for its district tournament.
Dolores will be the No. 2 seed in the 2A SJBL District Tourney next Friday and Saturday at Montezuma-Cortez High School.
NOTES: Dove Creek and Dolores split the regular season series. The Lady Bears defeated Dove Creek 38-37 in Dolores on Dec. 15.