By Eric Butler
GRADY — Although up against a seasoned group of girls who have won two straight state championships, for a while on Saturday afternoon, it looked like the third meeting of the season might be the charm for Grady.
But Des Moines (26-1) wrested away control of the Class 1A Region A basketball championship late in beating back the Bronchos 45-40.
Both teams had already advance to the state tournament thisweekend in Albuquerque by virtue of wins Friday.
Grady (24-5) knocked off Roy to advance to Saturday’s title game while Des Moines, which hasn’t lost to a New Mexico school for over a year, disposed of House.
The Bronchos raced to an 8-2 lead, largely through the play of Heather Blackburn — who canned a 3-pointer and two more field goals.
Des Moines rebounded to go ahead 23-17 with just over three minutes left in the half. The Bronchos responded with a 9-0 run heading into intermission to grab a 26-23 advantage.
Coming out of the locker room, however, it became clear quickly the Demons picked up their defensive intensity.
Despite getting into serious foul trouble — four Des Moines players had four fouls each by the early part of the fourth quarter — the Demons were able to exert enough pressure to make life difficult on the Grady offensive end.
“I told them that they were going to have to strap it on defensively, play stronger man and deny the wings harder, so they couldn’t reverse the ball,” Des Moines coach Joey Montoya said. “But, I tell you what, that (Grady) is a good team.”
Although scoring only nine points in the first 12 minutes after halftime, Grady still had a 36-35 lead when Jennifer Blackburn hit a free throw with 3:08 left in the game.
But Annie Kennedy tied the game with a free throw of her own with 2:58 left.
When she missed the second shot, Grady’s Brittany Bailey grabbed the rebound but was tied up by a pair of Des Moines players — forcing a jump ball call.
The Demons regained possession and Kennedy put in a shot with 2:50 to play for a 38-36 lead. That gap would eventually widen to 42-36 with 56 seconds left after two more free throws apiece from Kennedy and Kelli Goodan.
Grady coach Alicia Rush felt it was possible that her players may have been too heartened by the foul trouble Des Moines was getting into.
“They might have. I don’t know if they recognized that; I did,” Rush said. “They’ve got seven good players on that team, though. So, if you get one in foul trouble, you still have to wait awhile before you can get deep into their bench.”
Heather Blackburn finished with 16 points for the Bronchos, while Jennifer Blackburn added 10.
Emily Kennedy and Jodi Kibbe each contributed 11 points for Des Moines, which had only one player foul out.
Grady and Des Moines could meet for a fourth time this season — in the 1A championship game.
“I’m very excited. I’m ready to go — hopefully, we can pull it out,” said Heather Blackburn, who didn’t hesitate when asked if she would like to play the Demons once again. “Yeah — hopefully in the championship.”