CARRIZOZO – Animas didn’t need to win big to earn the third seed in the upcoming District 2-1A tournament. They didn’t even need to win.
All they had to do was lose by less than 10 points, but Carrizozo had other plans, Feb. 15, earning a 63-49 to secure a home berth in the first round.
“I found it hard to talk to the boys after the game, I was so proud of the way they played, especially in the second half,” said Carrizozo coach Trampus Pierson. “The way they played tonight, if we can keep that going, and just keep that desire and intensity up, hopefully we can build from this game and get back on track.”
While the final may have given the Grizzlies plenty of breathing room, things weren’t quite so comfortable in the first half.
Indeed, Carrizozo (12-15, 1-5 district) went completely cold in the second quarter, as shot after shot banged off the rim.
Luckily for the Grizzlies, Animas (7-19, 1-5) wasn’t scoring much either. At halftime, it was knotted up at 20-all.
“We have a tendency to do that when we get tired. We just want to pass and stand instead of moving on our offense,” said Pierson of his team’s offensive power outage. “But in the second half, they came out in the second half, gutted it out and played hard.”
At least the Panthers weren’t scoring, either, or they’d have built up a pretty big lead. As it was, Carrizozo was able to maintain a slim lead through most of the third quarter until Riley Pierson started coming untracked.
He had three treys in a row inside of a minute to put his team up by 10 with 58 seconds left in the third quarter, and ended up leading the Grizzlies with 28 points.
“It felt really good, knowing those shots were falling and knowing everyone else could hit it, too,” Riley said. “We just had to hustle more than they did.”
But Animas wasn’t through. The aptly-named Tell Swift – whose speed caused havoc with the Carrizozo offense and defense – came up with plenty of steals and went on a three-point blitz of his own to start the final period and bring his team within two.
That prompted coach Pierson to give sophomore Orion Wyatt an interesting job off the bench.
“I told him I didn’t care if he guarded (Swift) when we’re on offense,” Pierson said. “But I didn’t want him to touch the ball anymore, and he didn’t the rest of the game.”
Wyatt had more to contribute than keeping Swift at bay. Once the Grizzlies had built their lead back to 10, Wyatt came in to contribute to important insurance layups to make it a much more comfortable margin.
“Orion coming in like that was huge,” Pierson said of Wyatt’s performance. “Hats off to him. He gave us some really good minutes.”
With the win – and the manner of the win – Carrizozo no longer has to make a five-hour drive to Animas for the first round of the District 2-1A tournament on Monday. Instead, Animas has to come to Lincoln County.
That game will start at 6 p.m.
“We’ll go into that game with the same mentality,” Pierson said. “Every game we can win from here on out will be a plus for us.”
Girls still struggling
A long and difficult season is nearly at an end for the Carrizozo Lady Grizzlies, but at least they’ve shown some signs of improvement, even in a 49-19 loss to Animas.
Carrizozo (4-23, 0-6 District 2-1A) was never able to get the ball inside effectively to center Hannah Ventura, as the Lady Panthers (18-7, 6-0) sagged defensively on her and held her to just six points.
The rest of the team did its best, but couldn’t make up the difference. Although Kaitlin Guevara and Kristie Gallacher did come up with a couple of timely three-point shots.
“(Kaitlyn’s) an eighth grader, playing a big role,” said Carrizozo coach George Vega. “She’s done good for me the whole year, stepping it up. Tonight she’s shown her shot.”
Unlike the boys, Carrizozo’s girls will be on the road for the first round of the tournament, playing at Reserve next Tuesday at 6 p.m.
“We’ve had a hard time against them to. They know they have to shut down Hannah, too,” Vega said of the Lady Mountaineers. “We just have to show up to play and make some buckets.”