By Eric Butler
ALBUQUERQUE — A fairly easy victory with the next day to practice and shop.
It’s not usually that good at the state basketball tournament, but the beginning of the Class 1A girls tourney for the Grady Lady Bronchos on Tuesday was everything the doctor ordered for a nice, stress-free visit.
And the Cliff Cowgirls, Grady’s opposition in a quarterfinal game at Valley High, helped fill out the prescription.
Solid all-around play from several Lady Bronchos, particularly sophomore Stephanie Bailey, helped propel Grady (25-5) into the semifinals with a 51-34 victory.
Cliff (25-4), shaken perhaps by the rebounding tenacity of the smaller Lady Bronchos, began to lose confidence in its shot in the second quarter. By the third stanza, when the Cowgirls needed it more than ever, the shooting touch seemed to have permanently vanished.
“We were (shooting) 20 percent the first half and, I don’t think, much better the second,” Cliff coach Clay Means said.
“But they caused a lot of that; they defended us well.”
With Bailey’s 17 points leading the way, Grady extended a one-point margin early in the second period with a 12-4 spurt.
Trailing 27-17 at half, Cliff could have used a similar streak to begin the third quarter. Instead, the Cowgirls didn’t score for half the quarter and couldn’t take advantage of the fact that Grady had only one bucket during that span.
“I didn’t really know how it was going to go, so it was kind of nice not to worry about the fourth quarter, really,” said Grady coach Alicia Rush, whose team will next play on Thursday. “We’ll practice tomorrow — and go shopping.”
Jennifer Blackburn added eight points and yanked down 11 rebounds against her bigger counterpart at center, Cliff senior Mareda Shurts, who led the Cowgirls with 13 points.
After the game, Bailey said the Lady Bronchos utilized a Grady boys’ player — John Schueler — to play the role of Shurts in practice.
“We were really worried about 44 (Shurts). We thought she was going to come out and cream us,” Bailey said. “But we practiced really hard on Monday to shut her down.”
Leading 13-12, Grady got a bucket from Bailey and then converted consecutive Cowgirls turnovers into baskets to pull away.
One of the turnovers led to a quick pass from Brittany Bailey to Heather Blackburn for a basket and the other a field goal from Jennifer Blackburn.
The margin went to double digits after two baskets from Stephanie Bailey near the end of the half.
Rush said Stephanie Bailey’s performance was a reversal of the Lady Bronchos’ most recent game, a 45-40 regional loss to two-time defending state champion Des Moines.
“She was a little nervous, a little high-strung (against the Lady Demons),” Rush said. “But tonight, she came out and played real well. Last year at this point, she was a little shaky, too. But she did a real good job; I’m really proud of Steph.”