RICHFIELD — In a matchup of missed opportunities and sloppy play, the Gunnison Lady Bulldogs came up with just enough to escape with a narrow 38-34 win over the Grand Lady Red Devils Thursday night and punch their ticket to the 2A semifinals.
“We played really sloppy and I just told the girls you’ve got to fight through that, come together and play as a basketball team,” Gunnison head coach Melissa Sorenson said. “Finally, in the last couple of minutes we did that, but we were just sloppy for the most part.”
The Lady Bulldogs finally broke free of their early struggles, found some rhythm and stepped up their urgency to take a 17-12 lead at the break.
Gunnison’s intense defense held Grand to just 17 percent shooting in the first half while also forcing 14 turnovers in just the first 16 minutes of play to keep the Lady Red Devils relatively at bay.
“Defensively, we knew Shailee (Croasmun) and Talaunee (Croasmun) were their shooters and their players, so those who weren’t guarding them, we told them to help out extra on those two,” Sorenson said. “I think that really helped because it got them out of rhythm.”
Grand slowly began to chip away at the deficit and went on a 10-3 push to close out the third quarter, which put the score at 24-22.
With some precision passing and quality shot selection, the Lady Bulldogs then scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to go back up 29-22, but the Lady Red Devils wouldn’t go that quietly.
After a few defensive stops, Grand answered with 10 straight points to put the visiting team up by two with just over three minutes remaining in the close contest.
The Lady Bulldogs had seen enough. Forward Madee Christenson grabbed an offensive board and laid it in for two, while Millie Hammond stole the next in-bounds play to give the home team another easy bucket and put the lead at 34-32 with just 1:48 left in the game.
Christensen was terrific all night for Gunnison as she posted a double-double with 12 points and 11 boards to anchor the home team in the win.
“Madee is a baller. It seems that our team kind of goes where she goes,” said Sorenson. “When she stays confident and she goes after the ball, it makes our team more aggressive and we start to play better. She’s worked really hard, keeps getting better and better, and she just stays after it.”
On the most important play of the night, Josie Grajek dribbled into the frontcourt between two defenders and dished it underneath to Kennady Jensen, who laid it in and got the foul, putting the home team up three with just 39 ticks left on the clock.
Grand couldn’t convert on its next possession, leading to a quick foul and two free-throws, icing the game at 38-34 in favor of the Lady Bulldogs.
“That was something she (Grajek) just saw. I was actually going to tell her to keep it back and let’s try to be patient, but she saw that and made the perfect pass and Kennady just finished,” said Sorenson.
The Gunnison Lady Bulldogs are set to tip off in the 2A semifinals Friday at 2:30 p.m. against the winner of the Emery/Enterprise game.
“We have got to play better. We have to cut down on turnovers, we have to shoot better, and we just have to play through things,” Sorenson added. “Sometimes we get frustrated with each other and different calls, and we just have to relax and play through everything.”
Ryan Love is a full-time student at the University of Utah studying communications and has been a part-time sports reporter and scoreboarder for the Deseret News since October 2012.
Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724