Fort Sumner senior forward Sandy Fortner drives the baseline against Grady senior post Jennifer Blackburn during the Class A semifinal game at Bernalillo High School on Thursday. (Special to the CNJ: Andrew Chavez)
ALBUQUERQUE — Fort Sumner’s 16-4 advantage after the first quarter held up and the Vixens advanced to the Class 1A state championships after beating Grady 54-38.
The Lady Vixens (29-1) will face Des Moines in the state championship. The Lady Demons delivered Fort Sumner its only loss of the season, 60-41 in the Region A title game.
“This feels great,” said Fort Sumner coach Brian Fortner. “Last year, we got to play in The Pit in the third-place game, and that was no fun. This year is different. It’s for the title, it will be fun.”
Vixen Sandy Fortner generated a game-high 25 points as she intercepted a number of Grady passes and went in for layups.
“We just threw the ball right to her,” Grady coach Alicia Rush said.
Rush said the Vixens jumped out to the early lead because her team wasn’t playing aggressively.
“We just weren’t looking to attack the basket,” Rush said.
Grady (23-8) slowly tightened the game as Brittany Bailey and Jennifer Blackburn started hitting 3s and the Fort Sumner went ice cold from the field against the Lady Bronchos’ zone defense.
Blackburn led Grady with 10 points, followed by Bailey and Aerial Verble with nine each.
“We just went cold and we were taking a lot of quick shots,” Brian Fortner said. “It wasn’t that we didn’t have good looks, we just didn’t make them.”
Grady got the lead down to five and six points a couple of times in the third quarter, but Fort Sumner closed out the third with a 5-0 to go up 36-26 going into the final period and coasted from there.
“The kids didn’t panic,” Brian Fortner said. “They just kept plugging, they kept playing and just worked their way out of it.”
The Vixens will be making their first championship game appearance since their 1997 championship season against three-time defending champion Des Moines (28-2). This will be the third time the two teams have met, with Fort Sumner taking the first meeting early in the regular season.
The Lady Demons have towers down low with 6-foot-3 junior Kelli Goodan and 6-0 senior Emily Kennedy.
“Des Moines will do what they do and we’ll do what we do and we’ll see what happens,” Brian Fortner said.