The Volcano Vista girls basketball team, missing one of its best players for a long stretch, found itself locked in a competitive game in the first half Wednesday night at Highland.
The Hawks at full strength in the second half looked like the state championship contender they are.
Class 5A’s second-ranked team overwhelmed the Hornets after halftime in a rare (for this short season) non-district matchup, and Volcano Vista’s 71-52 victory over Class 4A’s No. 1-ranked team wasn’t even as close as that.
Volcano Vista (4-0) outscored Highland (1-1) 42-28 after halftime. The Hawks led by 30 with just over two minutes remaining before pulling their starters.
“We just had to pick up the intensity,” said Volcano Vista junior guard Jaelyn Bates, who had a game-best 23 points. “In the first (half), we didn’t start as quick as we could have.”
Bates’ backcourt running mate, fellow junior Natalia Chavez, picked up three fouls in the game’s first four minutes, sending her to the bench for the rest of the first half.
“She just kind of holds it all together for us,” Hawks coach Lisa Villareal said. “(But) the girls really stepped up when she wasn’t in the game, and the effort and energy was great.”
The Hawks had six 3-pointers and only three 2-pointers (two of which turned into three-point plays) in the first half, and led 29-24 at halftime. Bates scored her team’s final eight of the second quarter.
Chavez returned to start the second half, and Volcano Vista, last year’s state runner-up to Hobbs, quickly began to gain separation. Although it was as much about how the Hawks deployed Chavez on defense as anything else.
“We moved Natalia from the front to the middle to give us a little more height,” Villareal said. “They were dribbling a little bit more into our traps.”
Volcano Vista turned Highland over 17 times in the second half, many leading to easy transition baskets.
“The press did bother us,” Hornets coach Lonnie Neal said. “Even though we are a guard-heavy team.”
A 10-0 run for Volcano Vista upped its lead to 41-26 midway through the third quarter, and the game was not competitive the rest of the way.
There were two other issues for the Hornets. Senior guard Cailee Crawford struggled offensively, scoring just seven points. Highland was also undone by its inability to keep the Hawks off the offensive glass for the entire game.
Chavez finished with 21 points, 15 in the second half. Giannah Aragon added 14.
“We just had to get into the groove of the game, warm up on our shooting and driving,” Aragon said.
Both teams have nothing but district games for the remainder of the regular season.
“I feel like all of us, in the back of our mind, are treating every game like our last game,” Bates said.
Aaliyah Nevarez had a team-high 19 points for Highland.
“It seems like we always get their best game,” Neal said of facing the Hawks. “I still think we’re the best team in 4A.”
VOLCANO VISTA 71, HIGHLAND 52
VOLCANO VISTA (4-0): Mari Manzanares 2, Jaelyn Bates 23, Savannah McGuire 8, Giannah Aragon 14, Natalia Chavez 21, Taejhuan Hill 1, Angelyn Aranda 2. Totals 26 10-14 71.
HIGHLAND (1-1): Deniece Ryan 7, Alicia Trujillo 3, Kylie Crooke 4, Zoriah Jackson 8, Cailee Crawford 7, Aaliyah Nevarez 19, Delani Crawford 4. Totals 20 7-10 52.
Volcano Vista 21 8 22 20 — 71
Highland 13 11 12 16 — 52
3-point goals: VV 9 (Bates 5, Aragon 2, Chavez 2); H 5 (Nevarez 3, Ryan, C.Crawford). Total fouls: VV 16; H 12.