An estimated 9,000 Navajo fans packed WisePies Arena, aka The Pit, at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, on Friday March 10 as the second-ranked high-school Shiprock Lady Chieftains won the championship 4A blue trophy for the sixth time by defeating the number one-ranked Hope Christian Lady Huskies.
In the 3A girls title game on the same day, the third-ranked Tohatchi Lady Cougars came back from a 10-point deficit to upset top-ranked Eunice Lady Cardinals 57-50. It was the first state title for the lady Cougars.
Shiprock Lady Chieftains vs. Hope Christian Lady Huskies
The Shiprock Lady Chieftains had faced off against the two-time returning champion, the Hope Christian Lady Huskies during the regular season but lost on the road. After losing the last two title games to the Huskies, they were determined not to let this one get away.
After trailing 33-18 midway through the 3rd they turned up the heat on their press, and led by Tanisha Begay’s 22 points, were able to overcome their largest deficit of the season and bring home their first state championship since 2002.
“We never gave up,” said Begay, who explained that she could see it on her teammates’ faces that they were not going to quit until the final buzzer. After Begay’s 22, Melanie Secody and Paige Dale chipped in with 8 points apiece
The raucous Navajo presence was definitely a factor in the 15-point rally.
Besides the huge advantage Shiprock enjoyed from their supporters, and their pressing defense – the Lady Chieftains showed their strength from the free throw line, hitting 18-23 for the game and 9-10 in the fourth quarter. Begay was especially effective as she made 10 of 11 from the charity stripe and Secody hit six straight in the final minute of the game to seal the victory.
“We all stuck together like a family, and that’s exactly what we are,” said Secody, who played her last game for the Lady Chieftains.
Tohatchi Lady Cougars vs. Eunice Lady Cardinals
In the 3A girls state championship game at The Pit on Friday the Tohatchi Lady Cougars trailed the Eunice Lady Cardinals by five before kicking their offense into high gear and outscoring Eunice 24-12 in the 4th quarter. They scored five points in the final 20 seconds of the third period with a bucket, a steal, and a three-pointer.
“They cancelled school and they brought the buses and brought all the students,” said Kalian Mitchell of the Tohatchi Lady Cougars, who led Tohatchi with 20 points, including 9-12 from the free throw stripe before fouling out.
Cheyenne Begay added 15 on the strength of 4 for 6 shooting from three-point range. It was Begay who hit perhaps the biggest shot of the game from beyond the arc with about three minutes left to give the Cougars their first lead.
“That three Cheyenne hit was so huge,” said Tohatchi head coach Tanisha Bitsoi.
It was the first girls state championship in school history for the Tohatchi Lady Cougars
The semifinals were played at the Santa Ana Star Center.The Dulce Hawks began with a quick lead in the opening minutes of the game but were overmatched against the Pecos Panthers 71-51.
In the girls semifinals, the Laguna Acoma led after one period, but fell behind and the Eunice Lady Cardinals headed to the championship game. Talia Paytiamo had led Laguna Acoma with 22 points.
On Thursday March 9, the Dulce Hawks from the Jicarilla Apache rez were knocked out of the tournament in the semifinals 71-51 on Thursday by red-hot Pecos High, who finished the season with 28 straight wins. In the girls 3A semis on Thursday March 9 Laguna-Acoma was knocked off by Eunice 44-38.
Other predominantly-Indian schools to make it as far as the quarterfinals were the Gallup girls (Navajo Nation) in 5A: St. Michael’s boys (Navajo Nation) in 4A; Navajo Prep girls in 4A; Dulce girls in 3A; Mescalero Apache and Navajo Pine girls in 2A; and Walatowa Charter High School (Jemez Pueblo) in girls class A.