Lady Eagles rally to win epic state final
By Tom Mulherin
ALBQUERQUE – It was just about as improbable as it gets, but per usual, the Hobbs girls’ basketball team pulled it off.
Trailing by two points with just 3.7 seconds left in regulation of the Class 6A State Basketball Tournament Championship game Saturday morning at The Pit, the second-seeded Lady Eagles ran a desperation inbound play from their own baseline to give them a chance. Kiara Knight got to the free-throw line from the play with less than one second left (0:00.4), knocked down both free throws to force overtime, and Hobbs outscored top-seeded Cibola in the extra period by a landslide to win its first state championship, 64-55, since 2004.
It was all part of an effort that saw the Lady Eagles erase a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter, despite valiant performances from the Lady Cougars’ Kayla Martinez (22 points, 10 rebounds) and Amaya Brown (16 points, 17 rebounds).
Amaya Lewis – who led Hobbs in scoring all year – seemingly couldn’t part with the championship trophy by bringing it into the interview room after the game.
“(My heart) hasn’t let go of that trophy, probably never will,” Lewis said. “I’m speechless. … I can’t believe this is happening, but I’m really happy.”
On the final play of regulation, MacKenzye Gibson – who finished with 10 points and two steals – chucked her inbound pass down court from the Hobbs baseline to a double-covered Ayanna Smith at the opposing 3-point line. The ball ricocheted off Smith’s hands toward the basket, only for Knight to swoop in, grab it, go for a layup, and get fouled.
Knight admitted after the game it was the most nervous she’d ever been. But she didn’t seem to flinch, as she sunk both free throws to tie the game at 53-53. Ayanna Smith, Amiah Smith, Lewis and Knight took over from there and Hobbs outscored Cibola 11-2 the rest of the way.
Knight scored 13 of her co-team-high 18 points after the third quarter ended, hitting one of her four 3-pointers midway through the fourth to bring Hobbs to a 42-40 deficit. Another tied the game at 48-48 with 2:36 to go in regulation. Though, the free throws still seemed to be the biggest contribution, as the team had shot horrendously from the line (16-of-31) outside of those two clutch makes.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better kid to be at the line,” said Lady Eagles head coach Joe Carpenter. “It’s a senior. You’ve got to get senior leadership at The Pit, we know that. … After we got fouled and (Knight) hit those two free throws, it just gave us momentum.”
“I was just telling myself I’ve got to hit them,” Knight added. “If not, it (was) over for us.”
Martinez, who gave Hobbs fits all night with her tenacious energy, athleticism and shooting ability, fouled out with a few minutes left to go in the fourth. Brown had four fouls throughout the fourth quarter, and other top Cibola player Adamari Wadell fouled out later on.
With Martinez and Wadell gone and the rest of Cibola’s roster looking exhausted in the fourth, Brown tried to carry the load on her shoulders the rest of the way. But not even the Florida State-commit could do that against a resilient Hobbs defense, and that played into the Lady Eagles’ favor.
Even so, Brown had a chance to make the dramatic Hobbs comeback more difficult with her team up 52-51 in the waning seconds, as foul trouble forced the Lady Eagles to try for a steal before putting her at the line with four seconds left. But Brown missed the second free throw before Hobbs grabbed the rebound and called timeout, setting the stage for the miracle result.
“We take pride in being in better shape than everyone else, but Cibola is in good shape,” Carpenter said. “They just got into a couple foul troubles late and fouled out, and so it just changed the complexion a bit. … (But) we still had to come down and execute and hit shots. We still had to have steals, get loose balls.
“I felt like we did that.”
Nearly everybody that played served a role for Hobbs.
Ayanna Smith turned in a big second half to finish with 18 points, seven rebounds, three steals and most of the team’s nine blocks, while Amiah Smith had four points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals. Lewis posted 11 points and eight rebounds with her three steals, and Ciara Mackey and Za’Riah Griffin each put in quality minutes.