Yuma girls in Great 8 for sixth straight year
There’s unfinished business for the Yuma High School girls basketball team.
It’s a cliché.
But it is also true.
“Their focus is good, it looks like they’re ready,” coach Bob Rahm said. “They’re going there knowing what they want to accomplish.”
“There” is the Class 2A State Tournament, Thursday through Saturday at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland.
It will be the Indians’ sixth straight tournament appearance, which begins for them at 11:45 a.m. today against the eighth-seed Ignacio Bobcats.
Yuma fans know the history — three straight runner-up finishes, followed by the elusive state title in 2016, and then came last year when the Indians had to settle for a win in the third-place game after losing in the semifinals for the first time during the current stretch.
Five consecutive top-three finishes. Pretty impressive.
However, all but one player returned from last year’s team, and many of them are same ones who suffered another title-game loss in the state volleyball tournament last fall.
They want to close the deal this time.
Yuma enters the 2A Great 8 as the No. 1 seed after beating Las Animas 63-18 last Friday, then knocking off a tough Haxtun squad 51-38 on Saturday in Region 1 in The Pit.
It leaves the Indians 24-0 entering the state tournament, meaning it’s an undefeated championship or bust.
“There’s no going back now,” he said. “There’s no toe-stubbing this year.”
It will not come easy, however, as the Indians open against the same Ignacio Bobcats they opened against last year, when they were the first and eighth seeds also. However, the Bobcats came into last year’s tourney with six losses, while this time they are 21-2 with both losses coming against bigger schools, Pagosa Springs and Durango.
“Size-wise they match up with us,” Rahm said. “They have a better record this year. We beat them last year, so I’m sure they’re going to be wanting to pay us back…especially when you’re undefeated, everyone wants to knock you off.”
Fellow LPAA members Wray and Holyoke also advanced out of regional last week. Holyoke is the fourth seed and is on Yuma’s side of the bracket. The Dragons play fifth-seed Limon in the 7 p.m. quarterfinal.
The winners of that game and the Yuma game will play in the 4 p.m. semifinal Friday.
Yuma is also familiar with Limon, beating the Badgers in the regional finals last year.
On the other side of the bracket looms another familiar foe in the Wray Eagles. The county rival knocked off Yuma in the semifinals last year. They possibly could meet Saturday.
“We’ll probably have to go through our own league to win it,” Rahm said. “We don’t care who’s there; we’re going to show up and take care of business.”
Last year was the first time the 2A tourney was played in the cavernous Budweiser Center. Rahm noted the Indians shot in the 30-percent range for the whole tournament, but hopes familiarity helps this year.
“Last year was all new, now they know what it’s like,” he said. “This year we’re playing faster so hopefully we can transition and score more baskets.”
The Indians are averaging nearly 12 more points per game (57.2 compared to 45.6 last year), but it is still defense that drives the Tribe. Their opponents are scoring an average of 29 points per game while shooting below 30 percent. Yuma averages 12.5 steals per game. When asked, Rahm said the Indians spend about 30 minutes per practice on defense.
“We focus on it a lot,” he said. “It’s the No. 1 key of every game.”
Defense keyed the Indians’ win in regional.
They held 32nd-seed Las Animas to five points in the first half, while scoring 56 points through the first three quarters of the 63-18 win. The Trojans shot 19 percent, while Yuma shot 44 percent.
The Tribe led 21-2 by the end of the first quarter. Defense led to a lot of run-outs in the third as the Indians built a 51-10 lead midway through the quarter.
Rahm emptied the bench for all of the fourth quarter.
Yuma dominated the boards 37-10, including 18 offensive rebounds, and had 13 steals and 11 assists while limiting the turnovers to 12.
Cody Robinson had 14 points, three rebounds and three steals, Chasey Blach a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds, Avery Whitehead 10 points, one assist and one rebound, Kenedy Roth nearly had a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds, Kyle Rayl six points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals, Viri Escobar four points and two steals, Ema Richardson four points, four rebounds and three steals, Sarah Leifheit three points, five rebounds and two assists, Reagan Nolin two points and one steal, and Lisa Bustillos one point.
Haxtun had rallied to beat Ellicott in overtime in the other regional semifinal on Friday, setting up an All-LPAA regional final on Saturday.
Haxtun had been handed a tough deal, beating Holyoke for third place in District 2, only to be sent to Yuma while Holyoke went to a more winnable regional in Del Norte. Still, the Fightin’ Bulldogs gave a great effort all weekend and are to be commended.
Coach Rich Gerk was not shy with using his timeouts, calling three within the first quarter-and-a-half.
It did not do much to slow the Tribe, though, as Whitehead’s 3-pointer sparked a quick burst for a 10–4 lead that grew to 14-4. Rayl hit a trey midway through the second for a 23-9 lead. Two 3-pointers from Roth in the third sparked an 11-4 run for a 38-18 lead.
However, Haxtun senior Marissa Schelling led a Haxtun comeback, cutting the deficit to 10, 44-34, midway through the fourth, necessitating a Yuma timeout.
Robinson then made four free throws on consecutive possessions for a 48-34 lead, Haxtun junior Dawson Knode fouled out with 2:54 left, and Schelling followed one minute later as Yuma held on for the 51-38 win.
“They didn’t quit,” Rahm said. “They were down 20 and made a little run, but it was a really good defensive effort.”
Schelling went out in style with 18 points on 50-percent shooting, but Knode was held to five points on one-for-13 shooting, and outside sharpshooter Molly Brown was held on five on two-for-11 shooting. Yuma was not particularly sharp offensively, shooting 39 percent, but held a 33-24 rebounding advantage, and made 17 of 24 free throws, while Haxtun made nine of 13 from the charity stripe.
Blach had 15 points and nine rebounds, Robinson 13 points, nine rebounds and three steals, Roth 11 points and seven rebounds, Rayl seven points, two rebounds and two steals, Whitehead five points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals, Leifheit one rebound and Nolin one rebound.
“We didn’t have too many turnovers, and we had some players step up and have some big games,” Rahm said. “KT (Kenedy Roth) had two really good games.”