Shiprock boys determined to make a statement
By Nicole Baker
Special to the Times
SHIPROCK, N.M., March 14, 2013
That's the name of the game for the Shiprock Chieftains. After being seeded No. 4 almost all year, despite having the best record, the Chieftains are on a quest to prove the New Mexico Activities Association Selection Committee wrong.
The Chieftains fired their opening shot dead on with a 65–46 victory over No. 13 Ruidoso Saturday night at the Chieftain Pit.
"We're knocking at the door," said Chieftain Hiram Gleason. "We want the bigger game. Our goal is to get down to state and bring it home. It feels good to get that first (state tournament) win out of the way."
Saturday night was also the final time for the six Chieftain seniors – Kevin Aspaas, Jeremiah Tsosie, Dominique Todacheenie, Patdric Toehe, Raynor Francis, and Randall Belin – who got to make their final home court appearance before a sold out crowd.
"This win means a lot to me because it is my last home game here at the Chieftain Pit," said Aspaas.
The Chieftains played No. 5 Portales Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M. Wednesday night. Results were not available as of press time.
"We tell them to get out there and earn it," said coach Chester Atcitty, Jr. "Nobody is going to give it to you. You have to earn it. You have to work for it."
The Chieftains entered the game ready to prove themselves as they jumped out to an 8-0 lead and their defense held Ruidoso in check.
It didn't help the Chieftains extend their lead, however, as they missed several easy layups down the stretch.
"We just have to maintain focus and composure and keep up the intensity," said Atcitty. "I think we got a little too relaxed."
Begay agreed, "We got the win, but missed way too many easy layups. We have to be ready, we have to play good defense."
However, Ruidoso settled in and pushed back trying to even the score. With just nine seconds remaining, Ismail LaPaz hit a layup to put the Warriors ahead, 12-11.
"I loved having this kind of capacity crowd," Ruidoso coach Dennis Davis said. "If we could pull this kind of crowd every night that would be great for us…They were very hospitable towards us. They did a great job of supporting their team and got their team motivated…
"I'd still like to play against this kind of crowd every night," he added. "Who wouldn't want to play in an atmosphere like this every night if they could. I know our kids were kind of shocked at first, but I think they got into it as they got further along into the game."
That lead would be extremely short lived, though, as Darryle Nelson drained a trey just before the first quarter buzzer to put Shiprock back in control, 14-12.
"They were able to pressure us in a few situations and turn us over a few too many times. They're ability to create pressure and give us offensive difficulty, I think, was the difference in the game," said Davis.
The Chieftains went on another 6-0 run to start the second quarter. With the help of six points from Justin Begay and five from Gleason, they extended their advantage to 27-18 by halftime.
The Chieftains then opened the second half on a 12-0 run with the help of four layups from Toehe in the period.
"It is gong to be a tough battle as we go along," Atcitty said of the missed layups. "This is the state tournament. I told them, 'You are going to have tough shots like that. Those short jumpers are not going to be easy. The other teams are going to be in your face. They are going to be bodying you and jumping with and out jumping you. That's what it's about.'"
Although Ruidoso answered with an 11-0 run down the stretch, the Chieftains maintained the pressure to hold onto a 43-31 advantage going into the final period.
"It was an intense game," said Ruisoso junior Luis Marquez, who led the Warriors with 15 points on the night. Teammate Adam Ramos chipped in with 13 as well for the Warriors.
"We couldn't stop No. 12," Marquez added referring to Gleason. "He was their playmaker. It was a really intense environment."
"We just couldn't be consistent enough," Davis agreed. "We'd have a few plays, but then kept giving up a few easy opportunities at the other end. I think their pressure got to us in a couple of places and we weren't really used to that kind of intensity on defense for the whole game."
The Chieftains, though, held on through the fourth behind eight points from Begay to secure the win.
Shiprock had five starters in double figures. Begay had 19 points to lead all scorers; 13 points from Toehe, 17 points from Gleason and 10 points from Aspaas.
"It's going to take hard work, working together, teamwork, and believing in each other," Gleason added.
Atcitty agreed, "The key was definitely teamwork. We have to play together.
"These guys have been playing together for a while," Atcitty added. "When you put them together there is really good team chemistry. I tell them they all need each other out there on the court. They made it together this far, so why not finish out the season together and keep finding ways to win."