By Dave Wagner
CNJ SPORTS WRITER
ALBUQUERQUE — When you get to a state championship game, any number of things can be decisive.
Texico went back-and-forth with Tularosa for much of Friday’s Class 2A girls final at The Pit, but sophomore guard Shania Gilliland — 1-for-9 from the field to that point — launched a tie-breaking 3-pointer from the left wing that found nothing but net with just over a minute left, giving the second-seeded Lady Wildcats a 49-46 victory over top-seeded Texico.
Sophomore Brianna Reyna’s desperation 3 from on top bounced off the rim in the final seconds for the Lady Wolverines (20-8).
Tularosa coach Joe Estrada said he’s tried to build a state-caliber program in his three years at the school, and it culminated in a title.
“These girls have worked hard all season,” he said. “I knew if we kept it close, we’d have a great shot at winning.”
Junior guard Kyanne Kowatch scored 21 points for the Lady Wildcats (25-4), while sophomore guard Avianna Garcia added 10.
The Lady Wolverines were led by Reyna, who posted a monster game with 25 points and 20 rebounds only to come up short. Texico outrebounded Tularosa 53-27.
“She’s been outstanding all year, taking the lead for a team as young as we are,” Lady Wolverines coach Richard Luscombe said. “That’s a big responsibility (for a sophomore), and I think she handled it well.”
Reyna said she felt good about her final shot, coming in traffic from out front from about 30 feet.
“I thought I had a chance,” Reyna said of the final shot. “It just didn’t fall. It wasn’t meant to be.”
The teams went back-and-forth most of the game. Texico led 33-29 midway through the third quarter, but the Lady Wildcats opened a 44-38 lead when Kowatch converted a driving shot with 5:43 to go.
Texico pulled even when Reyna found freshman post Jasmine Gannon for a layup, then converted two free throws — Reyna was 9-for-9 from the line for the game — before senior guard Shelby Vannatta put back a loose ball with 2:28 to go.
Gilliland’s 3-pointer from the left wing proved to be decisive.
“That’s a big play,” Luscombe said. “Give Tularosa credit. They did what they needed to do to give themselves a chance.”
Gilliland said the shot wasn’t by design.
“I knew I hadn’t been making them,” she said. “It wasn’t really a play. It just happened.”
Kowatch made 1-of-2 free throws with 40 seconds left, but Vannatta cut it to 48-46 with two free throws at the 34-second mark. Kowatch then dribbled down the clock before drawing Vannatta’s fifth foul with 12.8 seconds to play.
She only converted one free throw, however, giving Texico a final chance.