Crownpoint ousts Lady Rattlers from playoffs


March 9, 2022

The 12th-seeded Tucumcari girls basketball team was holding its own during the first quarter of its first-round Class 3A tournament game Friday in a full gym at fifth-seeded Crownpoint.

Then the Lady Eagles began hitting 3-pointers.

Crownpoint (22-7) went on a 19-9 run in the second quarter, giving the Lady Eagles a double-digit lead it wouldn’t relinquish during a 57-36 victory over the Lady Rattlers.

“We had them neutralized in the first quarter, and they adjusted to our defense,” Tucumcari coach Patrick Benavidez said. “We were sinking in (defensively) too early, and they started hitting some threes. We’re young, and they took advantage of that. They swing the ball really well, and they get their shots off quick. We got a little winded in the second quarter, and that changed the whole aspect of the game.”

Benavidez said shooting slumps also hurt his team.

“We had the shots to get back into the game and make it reasonable, but they didn’t fall and (Crownpoint) pulled away from there and couldn’t recover from it,” he said.

Caylee Benavidez and Alexus Lafferty each scored 16 points to lead the Lady Rattlers. Crownpoint’s defense didn’t make it easy on them, either.

“Alexus is a leading scorer and primary ball handler, and she had to work for everything she got,” coach Benavidez said. “Same with Caylee. Nothing came easy to us.”

Crownpoint sits amid the Navajo reservation in the northwest part of the state. High school basketball typically is extremely popular on reservations, and Crownpoint was no exception. Benavidez said the gym was full two hours before tipoff.

“That was the best atmosphere,” he said. “The gym was just packed. It was an experience. Our girls were excited, but it didn’t really affect them; they didn’t show any nervousness or anything. I didn’t see the crowd affecting them at all.

“Just experiencing it this young in their careers, we’re going to be somewhere next year that has the same atmosphere. We won’t have to worry about that anymore, and we can just play.”

Benavidez said “at least 100” Crownpoint fans complimented him and his team for their sportsmanship and style of play.

“That’s a great feeling,” he said.

Crownpoint next was scheduled to face fourth-seeded Navajo Prep (21-6) in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. (The game was after the Quay County Sun’s deadline.)

Tucumcari finished its season with a 13-11 record and a district tournament title — a vast improvement from the previous season’s 1-10 campaign.

First-year head coach Benavidez, however, said he wasn’t surprised by his team’s advancement.

“I had a different view because I coached these girls when they were younger,” he said. “I knew their potential. I thought we accomplished everything I thought we would. I knew the girls would adapt to my style of coaching because they’ve done it before.

“They were down after last year. But they had to learn to trust each other, and that’s what they did. We had a lot of growing and regrouping to do. We learned how to win together and we learned how to lose together. That’s the best feeling as a coach — and as a parent — to see that.

“Now the sky’s the limit with these girls. After the game, the girls were saying, ‘What do we do during the summer, coach?’ We just lost, and they’re already thinking about playing again. That’s a great feeling.”

The Lady Rattlers lose three seniors — Elena Gutierrez and twins Izabela and Illiana Reid, all whom provided valuable rebounding and inside shooting help. Benavidez said he appreciated what they brought to the squad this season.

“Those three seniors didn’t play last (season) due to COVID,” he said. “But them coming out this year was big for the team. At practice, these seniors never questioned anything or complained. They played hard in practice and played hard in games.

“To have someone like that on your team and have that leadership — even on the bench, they were cheering each other on — you don’t see that too often. I appreciate them so much.”


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