By Pete Herrera: The Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE — Mayfield guard Madisen Spence had the ball in her hands and Saturday afternoon on her mind.
With Mayfield locked in a basket-for-basket struggle with Sandia in the fourth quarter Thursday, Spence took an inbounds pass with five seconds left, drove down the right side of the lane and put up a short jumper that banked off the glass and swished through at the buzzer.
The shot gave the Lady Trojans a 55-53 semifinal round win over the Matadors and a ticket to Saturday afternoon’s state championship game. No. 2 seed Mayfield (24-4) will play No. 5 Gallup (25-5), which beat defending champion and No. 1 seed Clovis 44-40.
Valerie Kast, a 6-foot-6 center who is headed to the University of New Mexico next season, scored 22 points and had 8 rebounds for Gallup. The Lady Bengals hit seven of eight free throws in the final minute and a half to hold off Clovis (27-3) in the other semifinal.
“I was so determined to get there,” Spence said of her drive to the basket. “I want to be there on Saturday.”
Sandia (27-3) had tied the game at 53 on Angelina Dennison’s basket with 14 seconds left. Mayfield got the ball up the court, then called time out.
“I was supposed to penetrate and if I couldn’t get anything, give it to Carissa,” Spence said.
Spence had the option to pass the ball to teammate Carissa McGee, but when Sandia’s defense failed to pressure Spence, she found an open lane to the basket.
“I think I almost had a heart attack,” said Mayfield coach Georga Maya, who spent most of the day grabbing his head, pacing, jumping and back-peddling in front of the Mayfield bench.
Spence, who finished with 24 points, carried the Mayfield offense in the fourth quarter. She scored 14 in the quarter, seven of them in a row after Sandia took a 39-35 lead with 7:46 left.
Spence, who had hit just 4 of 15 shots through the first three quarters, scored on a layup and had a three-point play. After Ashley Vigil gave Sandia a 41-40 lead with 6:41 left, Spence scored on a scoop shot.
Spence later erased a 49-46 lead Sandia lead by hitting her only 3-pointer of the day. Before that she was 0-for-8 from behind the arc. Spence then came up with a steal and hit teammate Shatwa Morris with a pass that led to a Morris layup that put the Lady Trojans ahead (53-49) with 1:35 left.
Sandia guard Kendra Coveal scored 17 points and Vigil 11. The Matadors were solid at the free throw line, where they hit 22 of 27 shots. They hit their first eight free throws in the fourth quarter before Dennison missed two free throws with 2:39 left.
Sandia trailed 18-6 at the end of the first quarter. The Matadors failed to score in the final 4:57 of the opening period but six straight points to start the second quarter got Sandia back in the game and by halftime the Matadors had a 28-27 lead.
Kast was an intimidating force in the middle for Gallup in the win over Clovis. She blocked or altered several Clovis shots and frustrated the Lady Wildcats’ shooters.
“She was a huge factor at both ends,” Clovis coach Miles Watters said. “Offensively, we had some people come up empty.”
Brittany Blackmon, the leading Clovis scorer, scored 12 points, but had only two field goals. Aimee Hilburn, six inches shorter than Kast, spent considerable time on the floor, the result of a losing shoving match against Kast.
Clovis led 21-16 at the half, but scored only five points — all three free throws in the third quarter. The Lady Wildcats got their last field goal of the first half on a layup by Blackmon with 13 seconds remaining, then went nearly 11 minutes before getting another one. The drought ended when Hilburn hit a 15-footer with 5:11 left in the game to get Clovis within 33-30.
A Hilburn 3-pointer and a layup by Ebony Bunton tied it at 35-35, but Gallup took the lead for good on a turnaround baseline basket from Kast and four free throws, two by Courtney Cowboy and two by Cherelle Rosales.
Clovis’ Tori Northcutt hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 43-40 with 40 seconds left and Cowboy hit a free throw with 31.7 seconds remaining.
Kast, who is from Estonia and speaks four languages, enrolled at Gallup last year after her mother took a teaching job in the western New Mexico town. Most of the other Lady Bengals are American Indians, and with no other player on the team over 5-8, Kast became a welcomed addition to the already successful program of coach John Lomasney.
“The girls adopted her and she fit right in,” Lomasney said.