Road to 1A title goes through Des Moines

Grady sophomore Taris Pond has scored in double figures in several games this season. CNJ file photo.

By Kevin Wilson

In a literal sense, the road to the Class 1A girls state basketball tournament goes through Albuquerque, with games at Valley High, Rio Grande High, West Mesa High and The Pit.

In a figurative sense, the road to the Class 1A title goes through Des Moines, as several teams are aiming to deny the Lady Demons a third-straight state championship.
The 1A girls tournament begins today with Valley High and Rio Grande High playing host to four games.

Many of the eight teams in this year’s field are tournament veterans, which makes the road tough regardless of opponent.

“It’s definitely going to make it a little bit tougher, but I believe we’ve got every possible chance to make it,” Grady coach Alicia Rush said. “At least we don’t have to meet a Des Moines in the semifinals.”

That’s what Grady had to do last season, and that’s a task that would be left up to Fort Sumner instead this season.

The Vixens lost in the first round to the Lady Demons last year, but would bring a 17-game winning streak into a semifinal matchup this season.

That is, if the Vixens (25-4) can make it to the semifinals.
“It’s going to be unusual,” Vixen coach Brian Fortner said of his team’s matchup with Mescalero. “We’re taller than they are — that’s unusual.”

Junior Kelly Fortner is out after tearing her ACL in the District 3-1A title game against Elida, but her father and coach feels that Kayla Britain and Laurel Herrera have played well enough to keep Kelly’s injury from being devastating.

Fortner feels that the other side of the 1A bracket is the toughest from top to bottom, but he knows that Des Moines alone makes the Vixens’ title road a difficult one.

“I definitely feel we’re the two best teams in the tournament,” Fortner said. “It would be our quickness and our athletic ability against their height. I think they’d have trouble matching up against our speed.”

There’s no telling who a Fort Sumner-Des Moines winner would see in the state title game. The last three seasons have seen Elida, Tatum and Cliff all reach the state title game once, but Grady is certainly not an outsider with a hard-earned 24-5 record.

“I do believe (our schedule) is going to help us in the long run because we haven’t had an easy season,” Rush said. Grady has two wins over Fort Sumner and accounted for the last Vixen loss, January’s Eastern Plains Athletic Conference championship game.

Elida (16-12) is heading to its third state tournament in the last four seasons.

Fort Sumner (25-4)
First-round opponent: Mescalero, 8 p.m. today at Rio Grande High School.
How they got there: District 3-1A champion. Beat Victory Christian 90-10 in Region B semifinals, beat Elida 47-24 in Region B title game.
Coach: Brian Fortner, first season.
Key reserves: Kayla Britain, Jr. F; Laurel Herrera, Fr., G.
By the numbers: The Vixens have won 16 straight, dating back to a 53-52 overtime loss to Grady in the Eastern Plains Athletic Conference tournament title game.
Last state tournament appearance: 2002, lost to eventual champion Des Moines in quarterfinals.
Quotable: “I definitely feel we’re the two best teams in the tournament. It would be our quickness and our athletic ability against their height.” — Fortner, on a potential second-round matchup with two-time defending champion Des Moines.

Grady (24-5)
First-round opponent: Cliff, 4:30 p.m. today at Valley High School.
How they got there: 53-41 win over Roy in Region A semifinals, 45-40 loss to Des Moines in Region A championship.
Coach: Alicia Rush, sixth season.
Key reserves: Aerial Verble, Fr., G; Jessalyn Murray, Jr. P.
Last tournament appearance: 2003, lost to Des Moines in semifinals.
By the numbers: Grady coach Alicia Rush won her 100th game at Grady in the regional tournament.
Quotable:Elida (16-12)
First-round opponent: Tatum, 8 p.m. today at Valley High School.
Coach: Dan Howard, third season.
How they got there: Defeated Desert Academy 48-27 in Region B semifinals, lost to Fort Sumner 47-24 in Region B title game.
By the numbers: The Lady Tigers have yet to be in a playoff nail biter, with all four postseason games decided by double-figure margins.
Last state tournament appearance: 2003, lost to Ramah in quarterfinals.