Over the last three weeks, the Heights girls have lost senior Analyss Benally, their leading scorer, and sophomore starter Trinity Conley to season-ending hand injuries.
Heights coach Kip Pulliam inserted new players into new positions, and at times there is confusion at critical moments.
As a result, there should be an immense amount of pressure on senior forward Athena Alvarado. Yet in Thursday’s Class 5A sub-state semifinal, she exhibited no such signs.
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Alvarado scored a game-high 13 points and blocked four shots as Heights beat visiting Valley Center 40-38. Heights (15-6) will play at Salina Central (17-4) on Saturday in a sub-state final.
“Athena is playing great,” Pulliam said. “She’s kind of taken the team on her back.”
Heights lost two starters to season-ending hand injuries, including Analyss Benally, who has signed with San Jose State. Benally was fourth in scoring in the City League.
Oftentimes players will try to fill voids by doing too much. Not Alvarado.
Her two key baskets in the final period — four of the Falcons’ five fourth-quarter points — came within the Falcons’ offense.
“I feel like I have a job on the court, and just because Analyss is gone doesn’t mean I’m going to stop (doing) what my job is,” Alvarado said. “I’m best at my job, not somebody else’s. My job is to get rebounds, score in the post and (hit) the midrange. That’s my job.”
Heights raced to a 20-7 lead in the game’s first 10 minutes, but then fought the rest of the way to hold off Valley Center (14-7).
39Valley Center’s total rebounds
21Valley Center’s offensive rebounds
28Heights’ total rebounds
Over the second and third quarters, Valley Center disrupted Heights’ offense, beat the Falcons in transition and beat their press. Valley Center also dominated in the lane — the Hornets outrebounded Heights 39-28 overall with 21 offensive rebounds.
Bethany Reeves, Taylor Latimer and Kyli Webber combined for 22 rebounds.
“We came out and rebounded a lot better in the second quarter,” Valley Center coach Trent Preheim said. “We went after balls. We were more aggressive.… They kept fighting.”
Valley Center finished the first half on a 12-3 run to get within three.
(Alvarado’s) just doing what she thinks she has to to win. That’s what it takes this time of year.
Heights coach Kip Pulliam
The Hornets kept chipping away at Heights’ lead and, with 2:39 to go in the third, Kennedy Weaver got an offensive rebound by leaping out of bounds to save the possession. She flipped it to Bethany Reeves, who tied the score at 32-all.
Heights answered with a Camille Patrick three-pointer, and the Falcons held onto a one-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“Camille Patrick had a great game,” Pulliam said. “She had some big threes.… Other girls are playing hard and smart, trying to do what they can and do it the best they can.”
Alvarado scored on a driving layup for the 38-34 lead with 5:42 to go and, with 37 seconds remaining, she put Heights up 40-37 with a mid-range jumper.
“She’s just doing what she thinks she has to to win,” Pulliam said. “That’s what it takes this time of year.”
Valley Center still had a chance, though, with 8.9 seconds to go and down by two. Coming out of a timeout, senior Kyli Webber — who scored a team-high 11 — narrowly missed on a three-pointer. Teammate Taylor Latimer got the rebound, but her shot rimmed out. While she was fouled with 2.9 seconds to go, she missed both free throws.
Valley Center made 4 of 10 free throws in the final period and was 13 of 23 for the game.
“I felt like, coming out with nine seconds left, I felt like we had it,” Preheim said. “I felt we were going to win it. We had a play we wanted. We got the best shooter with the shot we wanted, and it just didn’t go.”
Valley Center: Latimer 5, Reeves 7, Webber 11, Weaver 5, Boese 2, Perez 5, Rowley 1, Klusener 2
Heights: Lowe 2, Patrick 8, Alvarado 13, Powell 7, Teague 3, Taylor 2, McElrath 5