By Eric Butler
ALBUQUERQUE — Sandy Fortner’s free throw gave Fort Sumner a quick 1-0 lead against two-time defending Class 1A state champion Des Moines Thursday night.
That would turn out to be the Vixens’ only lead of the game, however, as the Lady Demons forced them to play comeback the rest of the way and held on for a 42-39 victory in a 1A girls semifinal game at Rio Grande High.
Fort Sumner’s last comeback bid went awry and Des Moines (28-1) held on for a 42-39 victory at Rio Grande High.
That was the score after the Lady Demons’ Jamie Atwater hit a shot with 3:39 to play. For most of the remaining time on the clock, Des Moines played keepaway offensively from Fort Sumner (26-5).
But, after a missed free throw by Jodi Kibbe with 30 seconds left, the Vixens had a final chance to tie.
Against a Lady Demons defense primed to stop a trey, Fort Sumner freshman Laurel Herrera’s 3-pointer missed. But Atwater was tied up on the rebound, and the held ball gave the Vixens possession again with 17 seconds remaining.
The last opportunity failed when Tobea Patterson was unable to get a shot off against the Des Moines defense.
“They don’t care who they play. They’re just going to play hard and give it their all,” said Fort Sumner coach Brian Fortner after the game. “It’s just a special group of girls. They’re not that tall. We’re pretty athletic, but a lot of that is just heart.”
Des Moines, on the other hand, is very tall. The Lady Demons, however, surprised the Vixens with their outside shooting prowess early in the game.
Annie Kennedy, a 5-foot-10 guard, bombed in three 3s in the first quarter as Des Moines jumped to an 11-6 lead.
Behind by as much as eight points in the second quarter, Fort Sumner closed within two points when Sandy Fortner — the Vixens’ leading scorer with 16 — hit a pair of free throws five seconds before intermission.
But Des Moines guard Chasity Russell bombed in a 30-foot, 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, forcing Fort Sumner to play catch-up again when the second half began.
“It wasn’t that expected, because they hadn’t shot that many threes throughout the season until tonight,” said Patterson, who added 10 for the Vixens.
In the second half, Des Moines began to exploit the paint, particularly Atwater. Eventually, the Vixens were forced to recover from a 36-25 deficit.
Fighting its way back, Fort Sumner cut the score to 40-39 after Patterson hit a shot with 4:15 remaining and, then, a free throw less than 45 seconds later.
Down the stretch, however, the most tenacious man-to-man trap defense by the Vixens was still unable to pry the ball away from Russell and Jodi Kibbe.
“We did a great job, everybody stepped up,” Brian Fortner said. “I thought we did great in the second half blocking out better. But their guards do such a great job taking care of the ball, and it really hurt us.”
Des Moines 42, Fort Sumner 39
Fort Sumner (26-5) — Sandy Fortner 5 6-7 16, Tobea Patterson 4 1-2 10, Kayla Britain 3 2-2 8, Laurel Herrera 1 0-0 2, Lindsay Mansell 1 0-0 2, Shannon Wilson 0 1-2 1. Totals 14 10-13 39.
Des Moines (28-1) — Annie Kennedy 4 0-0 11, Jamie Atwater 4 2-5 10, Emily Kennedy 2 5-6 9, Jodi Kibbe 1 2-3 5, Chasity Russell 1 0-0 3, Hanna Bray 0 2-2 2, Kelli Goodan 1 0-0 2. Totals 13 11-16 42.
Fort Sumner 6 15 11 7 — 39
Des Moines 11 15 12 4 — 42
3-pointers — Fort Sumner, Patterson. Des Moines, A. Kennedy 3, Kibbe, Russell. Total fouls — Fort Sumner 16, Des Moines 13. Fouled out — Mansell.