ALBUQUERQUE — After playing second fiddle all year to Elida, it looked on Friday like the Grady Lady Bronchos’ time to shine may have come.
In the NMAA’s first Class B girls state basketball championship game, no less.
Grady carried a six-point lead into the final quarter at The Pit, but the top-seeded Lady Tigers reasserted themselves and roared back for a 60-48 win.
Elida (25-3) outscored the second-seeded Lady Bronchos 26-8 in the fourth period, forcing five turnovers and holding Grady to 2-of-19 shooting from the field.
Senior guard Reavis Best scored 24 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Lady Tigers, while senior guard Margarita Ortiz erupted for 10 of her 12 points in the period. Senior Amanda Cross-Smith added 10 points and nine rebounds.
Elida won its other girls state basketball title (Class 1A) in 1995.
Elida coach Dan Howard said a switch in defensive strategy keyed the turnaround.
“We decided to go to a zone and maybe stop their dribble penetration,” Howard said. “It worked, and it got our running game going.”
Grady (20-11) didn’t score in the fourth quarter until sophomore guard Brenna Thomas nailed her career-best fourth 3-pointer of the game from the left wing with 3:30 left. Senior Mandy Rush added another 3-pointer with 2:17 to go to pull the Lady Bronchos to 51-46, but Elida went 9-for-16 from the foul line in the remaining time.
“They started pushing the ball a little bit,” Grady coach Alicia Rush said. “They had a little run there (early in the fourth), and we couldn’t get it back.”
Grady went 0-4 against the Lady Tigers this season in both volleyball and basketball, losing to Elida in both state championship clashes.
“It was frustrating seeing it going down like that,” said Mandy Rush, who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. “But they’ll (her returning teammates) be back next year and win it for me then.”
Best nailed a 3-pointer 10 seconds into the game, but the Lady Tigers went 0-for-8 from long distance the rest of the half. Thomas, who finished with a career-high 18 points, knocked down three 3-pointers in the final 3 1/2 minutes of the second quarter and the Lady Bronchos opened a 26-19 halftime lead.
“I feel good about how I played,” said Thomas, who went 4-for-10 from long distance and also had five rebounds. “I played my hardest. We’ll be back next year.”
Elida opened the third quarter on an 8-0 run — five from Best — to take the lead, but it was short-lived as Thomas and Rush helped Grady rebuild its seven-point advantage late in the period.
“They play very hard,” Howard said of the Lady Bronchos. “They’re a well-coached team, and they had some girls that hit some big shots today.
“For three quarters, we were kind of scratching our heads and hollering at each other. But we got it turned around.”