Bulldogs are Navajo Nation bound for second round

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Safford junior Brinley Kempton defends against an easy first-half path to the basket by visiting Miracle Brown-Jeter on Feb. 12. Safford prevailed 58-29 and heads to Ganado for a second round pairing with No. 8 Chinle on Friday, Feb. 15.

No. 9 Safford defeats No. 24 ALA-Ironwood 58-29 in opening round of 3A State Playoffs

By Raymundo Frasquillo

SAFFORD – The Robert Abalos-coached basketball girls walked off the court in Norma Bellamy Gymnasium with smiles on their faces Tuesday night as Safford ousted No. 24 San Tan Valley American Leadership – Ironwood 58-29 during the state tourney round one.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Safford defenders, junior Jessica Bright-Shade, left, and Deion Abalos, right, block the expected route of Warrior Giselle Rodriguez.

Safford started two seniors, a junior and two sophomores against three juniors and two sophomores. The skill level was noticeably different, and the Bulldogs had little trouble dispatching the visiting Warriors. American Leadership trailed by 25 points, 33-8, before reaching double figures on a field goal with 1:39 left in the first half.

The home girls scored in double digits in three of four periods, while the red-clad visitors did the opposite. Safford led 19-6 following the opening period, 35-10 at halftime, and 54-16 heading into the fourth period. Bulldog reserves played the entire final period. Safford’s starters had 45 points and reserves 13.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Sophomore Mia Carter goes up for a second-half score. Carter scored from inside, outside, and made 5-5 free throws in totaling a game-high 21 points.

“I wanted to get state playoff experience for them,” Abalos said. “That way they’d get the jitters out of the way.”

Safford totaled 20 field goals (six 3-pointers) plus 18-23 free throws compared to 13 field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 2-2 free throws by American Leadership.

Sophomore starter Mia Carter had a team-high 21 points on seven field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 5-5 free throws. Senior starter Deion Abalos added nine points, junior starter Jessica Bright-Schade eight, junior reserve Cambry Cluff five, sophomore starter Mikenzi Drage and freshman reserve Ashtyn Schuh four apiece, senior starter Analysa Montez three, and both junior reserve Brinley Kempton and freshman reserve Analysa Schilling two each.

For the Warriors, junior starter Miracle Brown-Jeter posted 12 points on six field goals. Junior reserve Christine Taylor added seven points, junior starter Kylee Van Wormer six, and sophomore starter Giselle Rodriguez four.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Junior Cambry Cluff goes up for a fourth-period score as junior visitor Kylee Van Wormer offers resistance. Cluff added two points in the final period and Van Wormer four.

The No. 9 Bulldogs head to the Navajo Nation for a second round pairing with No. 8 Chinle at Ganado on Friday, Feb. 15, starting at 6:30 p.m.

2A Girls State Basketball Tournament

In the 2A Girls State Play-In Tournament, the Pima Roughriders came back from down nine at halftime at Desert Christian and actually led after three periods. However, the Eagles prevailed in overtime, 62-61, ending Pima’s season.