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Tourney a tune-up for second half of season

January 11, 2019

HENDERSON — Less than challenged so far in the NIAA 2A South League, Needles’ girls went looking for some tougher competition and were amply rewarded in the seventh annual Gator Winter Classic at Green Valley High School in Henderson, Nev. Defeated in the first three games the girls won the last three and sewed up the Bronze Bracket Championship.

Winning every game in league competition during the first half of the season and losing only two in non-conference play looks good on the win-loss sheet but is likely less than optimum in tuning the team for the second half and any postseason plans. Playing tougher teams gives the girls some real court experience they just couldn’t get any other way. “We took a beating in pool play,” said Coach Manuel Calderon. “Playing some powerhouse teams was good for us despite losing. It lets us prepare ourselves for what we’ll face later down the road.”

Details of each game are listed in the order played.

Moapa Valley 50 - Needles 31

Starting with an early lead the Lady ’Stangs faltered when Moapa began beating them to the defensive end of the floor for easy transition baskets. “We just couldn’t seem to stop the perimeter game,” Calderon said.

Moapa led 11-8 after one, 24-15 at the half, 38-22 after three quarters of play, with game-high scorer L. Cornwall (No. 12) putting up 25 points. Paige Murch led the Lady ’Stangs with 14. Marie Mills added six including a 2-for-2 performance from the free throw line where, overall, the Needles girls only shot 40 percent.

Basic 68 - Needles 41

Basic’s girls size and outside shooting skills compounded the Lady ’Stangs’ difficulties with turnovers in Game 2, though Needles hung with the Las Vegas school until the second half.

Basic led 14-10 after one quarter, 26-23 at the half but pulled steadily away with 21-point quarters in the third and fourth while holding Needles to 12 and six. Basic’s J Richardson (No. 12) racked up 27 points; L. Powell (44) 15, S. McLean (35) 13. Mills led Needles’ efforts with 14; Murch and Valentina Limon added nine apiece, Limon’s entirely on three-point shots. Once again Needles’ free throws came in at 40 percent.

Chugiak 56 - Needles 30

Misidentified as a Canadian team in early reports, Chugiak is actually a suburb of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. Calderon observed that showed when they took the court. “They’re one of the powerhouse teams of the whole tournament,” he said. “They’re playing in the Gold Bracket with the elite teams.

“They’ve got great physical size, great physical speed,” Calderon continued. “Their point guard (C. Seldon, No. 12) has signed a letter of intent to play at Washington State.”

Still, Calderon proudly pointed out, Needles gave ’em a game. “For three quarters we were within striking distance, which I felt really good about,” he said. “Our energy level was real good. I was really proud of our girls’ performance and the way they battled.”

Riley Breaux was the high scorer for Needles with 10. Murch added eight, Valentina Limon six. For Chugiak, Seldon was held to 16, A. Lewis (22) to 14; the only two to reach double digits.

Needles 43 - Arbor View 38

The worm turned with Arbor View, which Calderon described as a school of three or four thousand. “They’re much bigger,” he observed, “and they’re great athletes.”

Down 23-17 at the half it seemed like the Lady ’Stangs just got tired of losing. Calderon said his girls energy level soared, he saw great ball movement and a great defensive effort in the second half. Needles led 34-28 after three.

Valentina Limon led the scoring with 19; five from beyond the three-point circle. Murch added nine, Mills eight, Jordyn Breaux five. Arbor View’s A. Oranchas (No. 2) led her team with 10 points.

Needles 40 - Pahrump 39 (OT)

The Pahrump game was likely the most exciting of the tournament, with Needles’ girls rallying from a 13-4 first quarter deficit to hold the Lady Trojans to three points while scoring 13 of their own in the second. Murch, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe, made a big difference in this game. She was the only Needles girl to draw a foul. Mills led the scoring with 15, half deuces and half treys, with one of those treys coming during the overtime period. Valentina Limon’s trey in the fourth, however, was the one that got them into OT in the first place. “They had a three point lead on us with about five seconds left and Valentina hit a three to tie it at the buzzer,” Calderon remembered. “Once into OT it was back and forth. We took the lead on Mills’ three to go ahead.”

Two of Murch’s free throws brought them the rest of the way.

Murch totaled 10, Valentina Limon eight, Jordyn Breaux seven in the contest. Pahrump’s T. Wombaker (No. 2) scored 13, K. Daffer (48) 10.

Needles 44 - Silverado 24

After the Pahrump game, the Bronze Bracket Championship game was positively anticlimactic. “I expected that team to be a little more competitive being a much bigger school than us,” Calderon said. “Our girls played really great defense for the first half. Silverado didn’t get on the board until we were up 14-0.

“We had a good, smothering defense and everyone was communicating well. They had a lot of trouble getting a shot off.

“Valentina got a lot of good looks at the basket, as did Paige. The girls did a terrific job of rebounding at both the offensive and defensive ends.

“Everybody got to play in that game, which was nice being a championship game.”

Needles was up 10-0 after one, 28-4 at the half, 34-15 after three quarters. Valentina Limon sank five threes to lead Needles scoring; Murch went 5-for-8 from the charity stripe as part of her 13; though as a team the girls still fell below 50 percent on free throws. Mills scored seven, all but one free throw on two-pointers.

“As a coaching staff we were really proud of the way the girls performed,” Calderon said of the tourney as a whole. “We learned we’ve got to work on our passing, seeing the passing lanes well. We’re concentrating on cutting down on turnovers, rebounding and pouncing on loose balls.

“We also learned the type of basketball to play against physical teams. The north (NIAA 2A) are physical teams.

“Despite the games we did lose for the most part I was really pleased with the girls’ energy and them being able to play physically as long as they could against overpowering teams.”

Calvary Chapel, Calderon said, is the other team in the 2A South that’s having a good season, though it appears they haven’t played nearly as many games as Needles. Their league record is reported to be 2-0. The Lady ’Stangs travel to their home on Thursday. Are they ready? Said Calderon, “I believe so. We’ll find out on Thursday.”

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