The Winslow Lady Bulldogs reached the pinnacle of high school basketball last Saturday by defeating the Valley Sanders Pirates 45-40 and claiming their ninth Division III state title.
After losing in the championship game to Page last year, the Lady Bulldogs (27-5) did not want to finish second again. They overcame blowing a 12-point fourth quarter lead to ensure they would not come up short two years in a row.
The title game, played Feb. 23 at Jobing.com Arena, was a hard-fought, closely contested game of runs between two well-matched teams.
Valley (27-4) jumped out to an early 14-8 lead, forcing Winslow to commit costly turnovers and effectively attacking the Lady Bulldogs' man-to-man defense. Winslow head coach Jerron Jordan then switched to a 2-3 zone to get his team back in the game. It worked.
The Lady Bulldogs took a 26-21 lead into halftime, and then came out like gangbusters on defense in the third quarter. Winslow held Valley to just two points in the third period.
The Valley Pirates never gave up making an interesting fourth quarter. The intense final period saw Valley storm back to take a one-point lead with just more than four minutes left in the game. Valley sophomore Tamara Nez drained two timely three-pointers to give the Pirates a 37-36 lead.
The Lady Bulldogs never panicked though, and never collapsed. And most importantly, they made their free throws down the stretch.
Winslow closed the game on a 9-3 run sparked by sophomore forward Shandiin Armao and her monster double-double. Armao finished with 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting and 21 rebounds.
Junior forward Halle Hayes chipped in her own double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds to help the Lady Bulldogs hoist the championship hardware. Senior guard Mattea Begaii contributed 10 points, five assists and three steals.
Winslow out-rebounded Valley 43-28 overall and dominated the inside by out-scoring Valley 30-14 in the paint.
Senior Adrianna Nez led Valley with 11 points. Saturday was Valley's first title-game appearance since 1980.
This is Jordan's first title in three years as head coach of Winslow. Winslow easily defeated the Holbrook Roadrunners 69-46 on Feb. 22 in the state semifinals to advance to the finals.
Valley Sanders narrowly defeated the Window Rock Fighting Scouts 55-52 on Feb. 22 in the semifinals to advance to the Division III state championship.