Late run pushes Des Moines past Lady Bronchos

Grady junior point guard Brittany Bailey blows by Des Moines’ Jodi Kibbe during the first half of Friday night’s Class 1A girls state championship game at The Pit in Albuquerque. Photo by Rick White

By Eric Butler

ALBUQUERQUE — Static cling only lasts for so long, and that was true with the pesky Grady girls basketball team in trying to dethrone two-time defending Class 1A girls state champion Des Moines on Friday.

As much as the Lady Demons were unable to shake Grady, it was Des Moines that held control throughout in a 51-36 victory on Friday night at The Pit to make it a three-peat.

Making its first appearance in the state finals since 1987, Grady (27-5) repeatedly mounted comeback attempts against the favored Lady Demons before finally falling away for good late in the fourth quarter.

“It was new and different. They obviously have more experience than us, but I very much enjoyed being here,” said Grady’s Jennifer Blackburn, a 5-foot-6 junior post who at different times was forced to deal with three Lady Demons standing 6-feet or taller. “They’re tall, they’re big and pushing it inside is what we were trying to do. But I think we took some shots that weren’t necessary.”

Des Moines (29-1) extended a six-point lead to 39-29 with a 6-2 run early in the fourth quarter. The Lady Bronchos rebounded with seven unanswered points on a 3-pointer by Blackburn — the only one Grady made on 23 attempts in the game — plus a basket by Aerial Verble and, after a Des Moines turnover, two Blackburn free throws with 2:30 remaining.

But a hook shot by Jamie Atwater with 2:03 remaining stopped the Grady comeback and kicked off a 12-0 Lady Demons surge to end the game.

“We’ve been in this situation before when we were down,” Grady coach Alicia Rush said. “In fact, we were down (against Elida) in the semifinals and we came back. There’s always hope, and I think the girls stayed in there and believed there was hope until the last 10 seconds.”

Blackburn led the Lady Bronchos with nine points and 10 rebounds, while Aerial Verble chipped in eight points. Des Moines was paced by Annie Kennedy’s 14 points.

That late rally by Grady, which has no seniors on its squad, was one of two major comebacks during the night.

Des Moines opened one of its largest margins by reeling off eight straight for a 20-11 lead late in the half. But the Lady Bronchos chipped away before a Stephanie Bailey basket with one minute remaining in the third quarter cut the Lady Bronchos’ deficit to 27-24.

Considering their overall youth, the question of whether the Lady Bronchos will be back in the title game came up after the contest.

“I hope so — that’s our plan,” said Rush, who was cautious in dreaming of a Des Moines-like run anywhere in the near future. “We’re going to have to grow a little more to do that.”
Despite the loss, Blackburn reveled in the experience of a state final.

“It was great,” she said. “You’re always going to have nerves playing in a state championship for the first time, but we were just happy to be here.”