In each of their first three seasons on the Dove Creek High School girls basketball team, seniors Grace Hatfield and Kobie Beanland fell one win shy of the Elite Eight in the Class 1A state tournament.
That string of disappointments ended Thursday.
Racing to a 53-33 home victory over McClave on March 11, the Lady Bulldogs gained a berth to state quarterfinals against Kit Carson on March 15.
“To get that win, to me, feels like we got a monkey off of our back,” said Dove Creek head coach Julie Kibel. “It builds our program because now (our players) believe in everything that we have been working on and wanting to get accomplished.”
Hatfield, who fought through double teams and scored a game-high 21 points against a tough McClave defense, shared her coach’s sentiment.
“I’m so excited right now,” Hatfield exclaimed. “I’ve been wanting this since the four years I’ve been in high school, and it feels awesome. (McClave) was face-guarding me, and their whole plan was to stop me. My teammates helped me out a lot.”
Hatfield’s scoring outburst was far from the game’s only storyline as Dove Creek’s three-quarter-court trap and aggressive defense caused problems for McClave all night.
After Dove Creek ended the first quarter on a 5-0 run to seize a 13-7 lead, the Lady Bulldogs came up with numerous steals during a 19-6 second-quarter run punctuated by baskets from Hatfield, Beanland, senior Laurel Hankins, junior Tara Buffington and sophomore Lexi Gray to make the score 34-12 at halftime.
“I did a lot of studying of (McClave’s) game film, and that’s why we went to that 1-3-1 (three-quarter press),” Kibel said. “I was pleased with how well we rotated to the second phase (of the defense). We got a lot of steals out of that.”
McClave did its best to regroup after halftime but again was stymied by Dove Creek’s aggressiveness on both ends of the floor.
On several occasions in the third and fourthquarters, Beanland deflected McClave passes and dived on the floor for loose balls while Kylie Gatlin, Kalie Gatlin, Hankins and Gray controlled the paint and offensive glass.
“If they were going to play (aggressive), we were going to play (aggressive), said Beanland, who sported a large scratch on her arm. “We like playing like that, so it all works out OK.”
After taking its largest lead of the night at 50-25 after two Hatfield free throws in the fourth quarter, the Lady Bulldogs continually rotated bench players in and out of the game while cruising to a 53-33 victory.
“What I love is that it doesn’t matter what five we have on the floor, we still have the ability to fast break and rebound,” Kibel said. “I think that one of our strengths is our depth and our bench.”
Joining Hatfield near the top of the scoring column for Dove Creek were Kalie Gatlin, who scored 11 points; Beanland, with six; and Hankins and Gray, with four. McClave was led by Tehya Dickerson, with 11 points, and McKenzie Kiniston, with nine.
Now 14-0 overall, Dove Creek will travel to No. 2 seed Kit Carson on March 15, at a time to be determined.
“We look at the next game as just another regular-season game,” Beanland said. “We will only focus on that game until we win and go on to the next game.”
“We’ve got to keep our confidence high,” added Hatfield. “We’ve got to play good defense. and we’ve got to want it more than the other team.”