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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Winslow Survives Scare From Valley, Wins Ninth State Title
by Quentin Jodie - Navajo Times
credits: photo by Donovan Quintero – Navajo Times

Like always, Winslow coach Jerron Jordan gives credit where it's due.

This time he really meant it as his Lady Bulldogs survived a frantic night against the Valley Lady Pirates to eke out a 45-40 win in the championship game of the Arizona Division III girls state basketball tournament on Saturday, Feb. 23.

"First and foremost, I give Valley credit," Jordan said. "It takes a lot to get here and they have a great ballclub. They played us tough every time, but we had a goal of winning a state championship.

"It wasn't easy because we were like two minutes away from getting another state runner-up trophy," he added. "The kids kept working hard. I have to give credit to my kids and my coaching staff."

After leading by as much as 13 points at the start of the fourth quarter, most people inside the Arena assumed the Bulldogs were just about ready to start clipping down the net and claim its ninth state title, the first under Jordan.

But in a matter of minutes the Bulldogs saw its comfortable lead dissipate as Valley forced four turnovers and converted them into points. On two of those possessions sophomore guard Tamara Nez nailed back-to-back treys and capped an incredible 14-0 rally for Valley.

Her second one of the night gave the Pirates a 37-36 edge with 4:16 left in the game. Needless to say, that stirred up the 10,000-plus crowd, which seemed to favor Valley by a slim margin.

"With the teams from our section, once you wake up that crowd you wake up a sleeping giant," Jordan said. "Valley's fan base got loud and they fired their team up."

After that shot in the arm, Valley managed only one more basket as Winslow ran off the next nine points, which was started by a put back from sophomore post Shandiin Armao.

"Our turnovers got a little crazy, but it didn't matter because we slowed it down" Armao said. "We got control of what we were doing and we didn't get frazzled. Our coach helped us through it and all we did was keep focus."

Armao finished the game with 17 points and had, a mindboggling, 21 rebounds.

Junior post Halle Hayes helped out with 12 points and 10 rebounds while senior guard Mattea Begaii added 10 for Winslow.

Valley, which was making its third championship appearance with the last coming in 1980, got 11 points from senior point guard Adrinna Nez while junior Rolanda Mitchell helped out with nine.

"I thought we had it, but we had some crucial turnovers there at the end," Valley coach Julia Six said. "We let this one slip away, but like I told the girls there is nothing to be ashamed of.

"We just have to keep our heads up," she added.

The third-year coach said the loss was hard to accept, especially for the five seniors.

"The girls played real hard," Six said. "We've been playing the same teams over and over and it's hard to go up against them, but we've opened a lot of eyes.

"We finished as the No. 2 team in the state in Division III and that says a lot about what we're building," she added.

With a smaller lineup, Six expected Winslow to control the board, but they counteracted that deficiency with hard-nosed defense.

"I thought we gave a good effort," she said when told they forced 25 turnovers, which led to 27 points on their end. "We just couldn't finish it tonight."

As for Winslow, they finished the game with a 43 to 28 edge on the boards, including 34 on the defensive end.

Those defensive boards were huge as they limited Valley to one shot after they trailed 16-12 in the opening quarter.

The Bulldogs took over the lead at 22-21 with 2:22 to go in the second when Begaii went down the baseline and put in a layup.

At the half, Winslow gained a 26-21 cushion with a three-point shot from Hayes. The Bulldogs extended that lead to 35-23 heading into fourth before junior point guard Marcella Joe gave them their largest lead of the night at 36-23 with 7:12 to go.

That was when Valley went on its run to make the game interesting.

"We've played them two times before and they gave us a good game," Joe said.

In their previous meetings "we would get a big lead, but they would always catch up…but somehow we would always manage to come back on top," she said.

"It got real intense and everything got real serious," Winslow guard Laylane Benslow added. "(Valley) is so talented and they just never gave up. I didn't expect it to be that close, but they gave us a good scare."

But interestingly enough, the Bulldogs were not about to let this championship slip away.

"I think it was in our destiny, especially with what we went through," Benslow said.

In mid-January the Winslow community lost a member of its family when popular coach and business teacher Rebecca "Becky" Barris passed away due to complications from a car accident.

"That really hurt when we lost coach Barris," Jordan said. "It was a big loss to our family and we're still grieving, but it brought us closer together."

After hearing news of her car accident, the team canceled its game with Holbrook. The next day they tried to pick up the pieces as they played Page.

"The kids were emotional out of it but they played well," Jordan said. "We lost that game by one point. From that point on we came close as a team and that sparked us as a team. We feel good that we ended this on a good note because I think we had an angel watch us watching us from heaven tonight.

"Becky was looking down on us," he added.

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