Shiprock hoped there would be an identical celebration in 2039. But there won’t be.
New Mexico’s last remaining undefeated team went down hard Friday after a 29-0 start, losing 62-59 to No. 3 Portales in overtime at the Pit.
Rams coach Wade Fraze later spoke of – and probably exaggerated – Portales’ dusty-town reputation and a name that he claimed nobody knew.
“Now,” he said, “they’ve heard of us.”
In girls basketball circles, Portales’ name most definitely is a familiar one, although this, the school’s first title since 2006, could be classified as unlikely.
Shiprock (29-1) was one of three unbeatens coming into the state tournament. The others were Laguna Acoma’s boys and the girls from Clovis. Both lost Thursday.
But Portales (25-5) announced itself firmly early, scoring 12 of the game’s first 15 points, leaving a crowd estimated at 10,000 – perhaps 80 percent of them from Shiprock – with nothing to do but stare ahead slack-jawed.
The Lady Chieftains, however, woke from their slumber in the second quarter.
Taylor Henderson buried two 3-pointers during a 9-0 run that brought Shiprock to within a point at 20-19. Shiprock moments later went on a 7-0 run; Shontai Grey’s rebound and putback led to a three-point play, Henderson drilled another 3, and many of those 10,000 roared their approval as the Lady Chieftans led 26-22.
“We knew any time you play a Native American team, they’ll have all their friends and family there. So we pretended they were cheering for us,” Portales sophomore forward Sheraya Cox said.
Shiprock led 29-25 at halftime and was in front 33-26 midway through the third quarter before Portales had a 7-0 spurt led by sophomore post Kambrey Blakey.
The fourth quarter began with the score tied at 40, and there were six lead changes in the final eight minutes. Blakey had a chance to win it in regulation, but at 55-55, missed the second of two free throws.
Henderson also had a chance to win the game for Shiprock. At the buzzer, she front-rimmed a 3-point try.
There was nothing especially spine-tingling about the overtime. Portales didn’t make a field goal in OT. The Rams went 7-of-12 from the line. A taller Portales lineup, which continued to pound inside and took advantage of its size, shot 45 free throws to just 18 for Shiprock.
“I wish we could have gotten the same calls,” Shiprock coach Larenson Henderson said. “That was a big difference. I don’t understand that.”
Blakey led the Rams with 23 points and 14 rebounds.
“We’re a strong mental team and we never give up,” she said. “We always fight.”
Cox added 17 points and six boards.
Taylor Henderson had 13 points, Grey 12 for Shiprock.