Girls championship season started with losses
It is not often that an eventual state champion loses its first two games of the season.
It definitely is not as rare as a school sweeping the girls and boys state championships two year in a row.
Still, the Yuma High School girls basketball team was 0-2 in early December after going 27-0 the previous season. Yet, the Indians proceeded to win 22 of their last 23 to finish 23-3 and claim the girls program’s fourth title in the “modern” era, and third in four seasons. (Yuma Union High School also won a state title in the late 1920s when Yuma teams wore purple and yellow and were known as the Cornhuskers.)
“It’s always a great feeling, still as good as the first one,” head coach Bob Rahm said. “I’m happy the girls got to experience that and get the recognition they deserve…The girls deserve a lot of credit.”
The Indians won their last 15 games while on their way to the 2A championship — wins 13, 14 and 15 coming in the Budweiser Events Center at The Ranch, last Thursday through Saturday.
It continued the YHS girls streak of seven straight state tournament appearances, during which the Indians have gone 17-4 with three titles, three runner-ups and one third place.
The run to another title began last Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals, where the second-seed Indians faced off against seventh-seed Heritage Christian.
Senior Viri Escobar set the tone early, coming up with four steals in the first quarter, two of which led to breakaway layups as the Indians took a 12-4 lead.
A putback on an offensive rebound by Chasey Blach and a three-pointer by Cody Robinson pushed the Indians’ lead to 17-4 early in the second.
Yuma led 26-8 at halftime. Then Escobar started knocking down 3-pointers, as the Indians quickly pushed their lead to above 20 in the third quarter. The running clock rule went into effect in the fourth as Yuma’s lead went above 35.
The Indians eventually won 54-19.
“I knew defensively if we did what we worked on in practice, and we had three days to prepare for them, we would stop them, and they didn’t have an answer for it,” Rahm said.
Escobar, not known for her long-range shooting, ended up making three of four shots from deep to finish with 13 points, six steals and two assists.
“It was amazing, it was about time I started making some 3-pointers,” Escobar said.
Robinson hit two of three behind the arc, finishing with 16 points, five assists, four steals and three rebounds. Blach had nine points, 11 rebounds and three steals, Reagan Nolin six points and two assists, Ema Richardson four points and four rebounds, Elle Roth four points, five rebounds and two assists, and Lainey Mekelburg two points.
Yuma was the only top-four seed to win in the quarterfinals. Top-seed Limon lost to eighth-seed Sanford 46-39, third-seed Meeker lost to sixth-seed Del Norte 63-61, and fourth-seed Wray went cold offensively in the second half in a 41-31 loss to fifth-seed Swink.
The Indians did not mind as they went up against Del Norte in the semifinals, Friday afternoon.
Del Norte featured 2A’s leading scorer in junior Kendra Parra, who entered the Big Show averaging nearly 24 points per game.
Nolin had the main defensive assignment on Parra, and the junior came through in holding the Tiger to six points, one field goal and four free throws.
“Reagan played a great game defensively, holding the top scorer in the state to six points,” Rahm said. “And she caused (Parra) to foul out because she got so frustrated.”
Nolin and Robinson hit 3-pointers to open the game, but Del Norte scored scored the next seven points. However, that was all for the Tigers as two 3-pointers by Robinson, and an old-fashioned 3-point play by her, along with a trey from Nolin and an attack to the rim by the junior pushed Yuma to a 27-14 lead by halftime.
Del Norte kept the deficit to around 10 to 12 points in the third, and was within 10, 34-24, early in the fourth. However Nolin swished another one from beyond the arc to help Yuma open up a 44-28 lead with 5 minutes left.
Parra fouled out a short time later, and the Indians cruised to the finish line with a 51-35 win.
“We’ve started out strong which helps when we go through a rough patch, which happens,” Robinson said. “Starting out strong is to our advantage.”
Yuma shot 42 percent from the field, including 67 percent behind the arc as Robinson made four of five, and Nolin two of four. The Indians also pulled down 36 rebounds.
Robinson had a spectacular game with 26 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two steals, while Nolin complimented her great defensive effort with 10 points and two rebounds. Blach had nine points and 10 rebounds, Richardson four points, Roth six rebounds, Escobar six rebounds and two steals, and Taylor Law one point, rebound, assist and steal.
Swink outlasted Sanford 29-27 in the other semifinal later that evening.
The way the Indians were playing, another state title seemed like a slam dunk.
However, Swink didn’t get there just to be a spectator to Yuma’s coronation.
The Lions took the early lead as Yuma scored just one point in the first six minutes. The Indians had just three points at the end of the first quarter. However, Swink had only six.
“We were just trying to do too much,” Rahm said. “We started slow but a lot of it was our own fault. Offensively we weren’t being patient. I felt good (at the end of the first) because I looked up and they only three more points than us. It’s not like it was 12-3, so we were still in good shape.”
The Indians started making the extra pass, including Blach finding Robinson for a bucket and a foul, Robinson completing the three-point play for Yuma’s first lead, 11-10, with 2 minutes, 10 seconds left in the second. Swink regained the lead, but Robinson hit a trey, but a scramble for a loose ball resulted in Swink scoring at the buzzer for a 14-14 tie heading into the locker room.
The Indians began separating themselves in the third.
Nolin and Robinson each struck from deep. Nolin made a free throw, missed the second, but Blach corraled the rebound and dished it back out to Nolin, who swished a jumper from the stripe for a 25-16 lead.
“Once we started doing it together, it made it a lot easier for us,” Rahm said.
Swink, however, hung tough, getting within five twice early in the fourth.
Yuma responded with a 5-0 spurt as Blach converted an “and one” and Escobar got to the rim for a 32-22 lead, prompting a Swink timeout with 5:14 left.
Defensively, Nolin once again clamped down on one of the top scorers in 2A, senior Brianna Denton, the classification’s second-leading scorer at nearly 18 points per game. Denton was held to six points, and fouled out on Blach’s “and one” play.
Swink got to within seven on a 3-pointer, but Escobar had another steal and layup, and Nolin knocked down another trey for a 38-25 lead.
Just 2:40 remained, and all that was left was the celebrating in the 41-25 championship victory.
Yuma again blistered the 3-point line, making five of nine attempts for 56 percent, Robinson making three of four and Nolin two of three.
Robinson was 2A’s third-leading scorer, but easily was the best player on the court last weekend. She averaged 21 points per game, shooting 75 percent from long range (making nine of 12), and also recorded her share of rebounds, assists and steals.
“Cody is a great leader,” Rahm said. “She got us a basket whenever we needed it. She just refuses to lose.”
She finished the championship game with 21 points, six rebounds and two assists. Nolin, who had a great all-around tournament, had nine points and three rebounds. Blach controlled the interior, including three blocks in the championship, and had five points, eight rebounds and three assists. Escobar closed out her career in style with a great tournament. She had four points, four assists and three steals. Richardson had two points and three rebounds, and Roth, just a freshman, two rebounds.
“Basketball is tough, it’s such a long season,” Rahm said. “The girls have to dedicate their whole June to summer ball, then they come off a volleyball championship right into basketball. It’s tough. The girls deserve a lot of credit.”