With her team trailing Ignacio by five points late in the second quarter on March 4, Dove Creek High School senior Grace Hatfield could feel her team’s dream of a San Juan Basin League title slipping away.
Unwilling to let her team succumb, however, Hatfield drained a 3-pointer from the right wing with 1.7 seconds left in the half to cut her team’s deficit to 26-24, and then scored 14 of her game-high 19 points after halftime to lift the Lady Bulldogs to a 51-48 victory.
“We wanted it more than them,” Hatfield said. “We wanted to be league champs, and we came out and got it.”
While Hatfield’s second-half scoring spree was a catalyst in Dove Creek’s big second half, the team’s victory might not have been possible absent head coach Julie Kibel’s decision to switch from a man-to-man defense to a zone defense in the second half.
Unable to make unimpeded drives into the paint as they did in the opening half, Ignacio players struggled to score throughout the second half of a contest that was watched by a large contingency of fans of both teams.
“Our coach, (Julie Kibel) is really good at reading offenses, and we have big girls,” Hatfield said. “It was an advantage (when we switched to a zone defense) and packed it down low.”
Other key factors in the Lady Bulldogs victory were the ability of freshman Kalie Gatlin to score at will during an opening quarter that saw her net 12 of her 14 total points, and the ability of senior Kobie Beanland play lockdown defense and hit key shots down the stretch.
“It’s freaking amazing,” Beanland said. “We’ve been trying to beat Ignacio all four years, and they’ve been pretty strong. This year, we came out on top because we wanted it more and we worked harder.”
After an opening quarter that was highlighted by a high-arcing 3-pointer from the right corner by junior Tara Buffington and consecutive 3-pointers by Gatlin later in the quarter that helped the Lady Bulldogs build a 18-15 lead after eight minutes of play, Ignacio fought back with abandon.
A transition layup by Jaydon Brunson to open the second quarter made the score 18-17, and after four points from Harmony Reynolds and a layup by Shelcie Gosney, the Bobcats found themselves ahead 25-20 with two minutes left in the first half.
Thanks to Hatfield’s clutch 3-pointer just before halftime, Dove Creek found itself down 26-24 heading into the locker room.
As the third quarter got underway, Hatfield took control with a pull-up jump shot over two Ignacio defenders, a high-arching layup as she fell to the ground, a 3-pointer from the right wing and a pretty spin move and layup that made that cut Dove Creek’s deficit to 36-34.
After Beanland knocked down a 3-pointer from the right wing to give the Lady Bulldogs a 39-38 lead heading into the fourth quarter, Dove Creek and Ignacio battled things out before two clutch free throws by Beanland with 1:02 left gave the Bulldogs a 50-45 lead.
“When I stepped to the line, I was thinking, ‘I gotta make these or coach is not going to be happy,’” Beanland said.
Although Ignacio made things interesting when Valdez knocked down a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left to make the score 50-48 in favor of Dove Creek, a free throw by Hatfield with nine seconds left and an errant 3-pointer by Valdez as time expired gave Dove Creek the victory.
As the Lady Bulldogs celebrated their outright San Juan Basin League title and the home crowd roared, Kibel and Dove Creek assistant coach Jonce Hatfield exchanged smiles before walking toward the scorer’s table to congratulate the Ignacio team.
Leading scorers for Dove Creek included Hatfield with 19, Gatlin with 14, sophomore Lexi Gray with seven and Beanland with five. Ignacio was led offensively by Valdez with 19 points, Gosney with 10 points and Avaleena Nanaeto with seven points.
With their record now at 12-0 overall and 7-0 in the San Juan Basin League, Dove Creek will look to conclude its regular season with a home victory over Dolores High School on March 6 before setting out on what it hopes will be a deep postseason run.
“We’ve gotta have big heart,” said Hatfield, when asked what it will take for her team to accomplish its long-time goal of qualifying for the Class 1A state tournament. “We’ve gotta want it more than everyone else.”