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  • McClave Girls Dominate the District 2 Tournament
The McClave Lady Cardinals continue on a perfect path with a 21-0 record after defeating Kit Carson, 57-48, in the District 2 Girls’ Tournament. McClave will host their Regional this weekend. Pictured are (front l to r seniors) Kennedy Vallejos and Alice Santimaria (back l to r) Kristen Marks, Ashlynn Steinbrunn, Jaquelin Canales, McKayla Kiniston, Abrielle Gomez, Chloe Weber, Zoe Martinez, Makayla Phillips, Kierra Coen, Windsor Leighty.
Nita Walls

McClave Girls Dominate the District 2 Tournament

By Betsy Barnett

March 1, 2023

It’s always been pounded into every athlete’s head that ‘defense wins championships’ and for the McClave Lady Cardinals their defense has paid off in a huge way with a perfect, undefeated season (21-0) and a top-berth in this weekend’s Regional tournament.

McClave used their stifling defense to dominate Eads (11-11) in the District 2 semifinals contest, 46-16 forcing 31 turnovers in the game. The next night against the much bigger and more experienced Kit Carson Wildcats the Lady Cards again dominated, winning 57-48 to become the outright District 2 champions.

All seven teams from the Hi-Plains League qualified for the Regional tournament round—an indicator of the level of competition that is in southeastern Colorado.

McClave’s perfection allows them to host one of the eight regional tournaments in the 1A division. They will start out the regional tournament against South Baca (#32, 8-12) a team that most of the Hi-Plains league defeated during the season. Also in McClave on the other side of the regional bracket will be Kim/Branson (#16, 12-8) who will take on Cheyenne Wells (#17, 7-13) on Friday night.

Losers go home ending their season. Winners advance to the finals round of the regional bracket and play to advance to the 1A Colorado Girls’ Basketball Tournament the next week on March 9, 10, 11.

McClave advanced to the District 2 finals game against Kit Carson by defeating Eads 46-16. In that contest they jumped out to 16-4 lead after one. Eads settled in a bit and tied the score going into the intermission.

But another big defensive push held the Eagles down to just 2 points in the third quarter while the Cards shot their way to 18 points. Coach Brianne Howe pulled off the dogs in the final period giving her bench a lot of court time.

McClave’s defense did two things to the Eagles who battled strong to keep up. It disrupted their shooting as the Eagles shot just 19% from the field. It also caused the Eagles to turn the ball over 31 times—a stat that won’t afford a team many wins. However, the Eads girls did battle and out-rebounded the Cardinals, 29-26.

Eads head coach Trey Eder said of the McClave game, “Against McClave and Granada we were complete opposites than how we had played against Cheraw in the quarterfinals. We came out slow and dug a hole that turned out to be too big in both games. We seemed a little sluggish and back on our heels from the tip. McClave’s pressure bothered us, but Lexi (Shotton) did a tremendous job of stepping up and taking the lead for getting the ball up the floor against them. That’s not an easy task but I felt she did a great job with that. We just couldn’t get a shot to fall and turned the ball over for easy points.”

Eads was coming off a strong win over a very good Cheraw group who had beaten the Eagles in the regular season. Eads won the quarter-finals game 45-43 with Tailee Weeks-Johnson leading the way with 16 points and 8 boards.

Against McClave no Eagles could score more than four points with Shotton, Madison McDowell, and Kara Wilson all putting in 4 points apiece. McDowell also had 8 boards.

The McClave group was led by a little sharp-shooting freshman in Zoe Martinez who comes off the bench with a quick trigger. She had 12 points, all in triples.

Ashlynn Steinbrunn added 11 points and 6 boards, while Abrielle Gomez had 9 boards, 7 rebounds and 7 steals.

McKayla Kiniston, an athletic junior, added 6 points, 6 boards and 10 steals. Kierra Coen had 3 boards.

On the other side of the bracket Kit Carson had plowed their way through some tough teams in order to get to the championship game.

In the quarterfinals they struggled against an athletic Cheyenne Wells group but eventually won 26-22, although it was nerve-ranking for the faithful Purple & Gold.

Kit Carson finally made a move in the third quarter after being tied 11-11 at the intermission. Tess Johnson scored 9 points, but more importantly pulled down 10 rebounds and had 4 steals. Lindsey Mayhan added 8 points, 5 rebounds and 4 steals.

For the Tigers it was sophomore Paige Ryser with 9 points.

Kit Carson, despite the poor showing in the quarterfinals, came to play against the 18-2 Granada Bobcats. Granada had defeated Wiley in the quarterfinals, but showed their tournament jitters by letting the Lady Panthers stick around for most of the game.

The jitters continued into the semifinals against the experienced Wildcats from Kit Carson. Granada had the slight lead at intermission but didn’t have an answer for Tess Johnson.

The Wildcats came out in the second half and went to their strength riding Johnson to the win.

The senior would have 20 points to lead all scorers. Freshman Shay Booker-Rady added 12 points.

For Granada, who experienced that bitter loss to a team they had defeated in the regular season, it was Marissa Valenzuela with 15 points and Trinidie Quintana who had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Granada went on to defeat Eads handily in the third place game, 49-26, led by senior Kiara Herrera. But Coach Grasmick knows he’s going to have to work on his girls’ confidence as they move into the post-season.

Kit Carson and McClave butted heads in the District 2 Championship game on Saturday night in front of a packed crowd. The Wildcats hoped they could slow the ball down and take advantage of their superior size inside with Johnson and Payge Booker-Rady. The McClave group would push the defense and continue to fast-break.

Not only is McClave a very good defensive team, but they are now showing some serious signs of being a great shooting team. Against Kit Carson the Cards were hot from 15’ and beyond as Gomez got them started with a triple at the 5:50 mark of the first period, and Martinez followed suit with another long ball with 2:12 left in the first. Not to be outdone, sophomore Chloe Weber added one more downtowner with 1:23 left in the first leaving the Cards with a shocking 20-4 lead.

And that’s really how the game went as McClave had their biggest lead late in the third quarter, 42-22.

The ending score didn’t indicate just how far McClave beat the Wildcats as Coach Howe played her bench for nearly the entire fourth quarter.

Johnson had a beautiful game with 23 points and 5 rebounds. Payge Booker-Rady added 13 points and 6 rebounds.

For the Cards it was Gomez with 19 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Martinez added 13 points off the bench.

Kiniston also had 13 points, 8 rebounds and 5 steals. Vallejos added 7 points and 4 assists, while Ashlynn Steinbrunn pulled down 7 rebounds and 4 steals.

All seven teams in the Hi-Plains League will be competing in the Regional round this weekend vying for one of the 8 spots in the 1A Girls State Championships.

McClave will host their region that also includes Cheyenne Wells.

Granada (#9, 18-3) will be in Sangre de Cristo where they take on the Genoa-Hugo Pirates (#24, 8-14) on Friday. If they win they will play the winner of Sangre de Cristo (#8, 19-2) and North Park (#25, 7-13).

Wiley (#31, 6-13) inched into the regional tournament at Flatirons Academy (#2, 20-1) and will take on the top-seeded host.

Kit Carson (#10, 15-7) goes to the Springfield regional where they take on Sierra Grande (#23, 12-10) in the first round. If they win they will play the winner of Springfield (#7, 15-6) and Flagler (#26, 8-12)

Eads (#14, 11-11) will go to Briggsdale where they take on Nucla (#19, 11-9) in the first round. If they win they play the winner of Briggsdale (#3, 19-2) and Rocky Mountain Lutheran (#30, 9-10).

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