Drew Sanders has been here before twice. More than half of his roster players haven’t.
The eighth-year women’s basketball coach for New Mexico Junior College has had his share of cutting down nets inside gymnasiums, and this time, it was all for each of his 12 Lady Thunderbirds, who each, in a single-file line, took three steps up the ladder to snip a piece of the prize in celebration.
“It’s special because this is just so hard to do,” said Sanders, whose Lady Thunderbirds pulled off one of their more complete performances of the season after keeping a feisty Lady Westerns squad at arm’s length in the NJCAA Region V championship game.
New Mexico used its lengthy post players to wreak havoc against an undersized Western Texas bunch in its 65-52 title victory inside the Brownwood Coliseum Saturday. It added another regional title for Sanders in his tenure with the program.
“It’s been hard all year. We’ve had some adversity at the end, but the mental toughness and perseverance we showed was great,” Davis said.
The closest the Lady Westerners got was six points at the 6:14 mark of the second half, but too much of Angelica De Paulo and Antonia Robinson down low wiped away any chance of extending Western Texas’ win streak to seven after impressive victories in the first two rounds as underdogs.
“Anything is possible,” guard Kelsey Criner (nine points) said of No. 4-seeded Western Texas and its late season run to barley qualify for the regional tournament. “When I heard they won (nine of their last 11), that was surprising, and you got to show them that respect.”
New Mexico (27-3) — which outscored its opponent by a whopping 38-10 in the paint — didn’t trail once in the game, but Western Texas (18-14) never let the deficit grow to more than 10 for about the first 35 minutes.
Every time the Lady Westerners got within striking distance, NMJC’s pair of 6-foot forwards answered the call in the paint, as they combined for more than half of the team’s point total.
“They weren’t doubling down low, so we had to take advantage of that and just keep pounding it,” said Robinson, who scored 10 of her 12 points in the second half.
“We knew they weren’t that big inside, so we definitely wanted to pound it (down low),” Davis said.
As a team, the Lady Thunderbirds finished the game shooting 55 percent. The length of both Robinson and De Paulo, who scored a game-high 26 points, also suffocated the Lady Westerners, limiting them to just 30 percent shooting in the contest.
The 3-point (6 of 17) and free throw (18 of 25) shooting from Western Texas were the sparks that kept the game relatively close throughout. The Lady Westerns shot just 3 of 7 from 3-point land and got to the line only six times.
Brechelle Beachum finished with a team-high 13 points, and Jocelyn Jeffrey chipped in 11 points for the Lady Westerners.