By GANNON HANEVOLD
Moapa Valley Progress
The Moapa Valley girls basketball team has had a dominant season, with few losses to their record, and still zero losses in league games. But going into last week, the Pirates knew they’d face two of their toughest opponents in the Chaparral Cowboys and the rival Virgin Valley Bulldogs.
The first game of the week came on the road against the Cowboys. Chaparral was in need of a few big wins to help themselves out for playoff position. And what better opponent to try to upset than the top-seeded Pirates? At least that was the thought from the Cowboys’ viewpoint. But the Pirates had other ideas in mind.
But it wasn’t without an initial scare. Moapa head coach Stuart Humes said his team has had a history of slow starts on the road against Chaparral. That pattern seemed to repeat itself once more last week.
Courtesy of some strong Cowboy momentum, and a few missed free throws and opportunities at the rim, the Pirates blinked and suddenly the Cowboys led 15-6 at the end of the first quarter. It seemed like Moapa Valley was on the verge of figuring it out and cutting down the deficit in the second, but Chaparral had not given up quite yet. In fact, the Cowboy team extended its lead to 28-17 at halftime.
A large part of the Pirates’ struggles had come from missed free throws and close shots. In the third quarter, they focused on these flaws and minimized the same errors.
By the end of the third, thanks to two free throws in the final seconds, the Pirates fought their way back. They would have the Chaparral lead cut down to just four points with a score of 34-30.
To start the fourth quarter, junior guard Lainey Cornwall heated up, sinking three-shots from behind the arc to start the quarter. All of a sudden, Moapa Valley came alive and had the lead, 41-36. The Cowboys hung around, but thanks to a few more plays from Cornwall, and important free throws by Shelbi Walker, the Pirates iced it and would win 51-44.
“The girls knew we were capable of playing better but they found a way to make enough plays in the second half and get the job done,” Head Coach Stuart Humes said.
As for the struggles with finishing opportunities, Humes added, “When you get your opportunities to stay in a ball game, you have to make your layups and your free throws. The girls sometimes come in with a little lack of focus to start but they recognized they had to focus on finishing and they did that in the second half.”
While the win was exciting, one other storyline came courtesy of the training room. Pirate ju nior Peyton Schraft suffered a shoulder injury in the game and would miss the game on Friday against Virgin Valley.
The matchup between the Pirates and Bulldogs had shaped up to be the game of the regular season for the Sunrise division. The top two teams, rivals, facing off in Virgin Valley’s brand-new gymnasium for the first time.
The game started exactly as fans had hoped, back and forth and exciting on both ends.
For Moapa, the story was Lainey Cornwall. Her performance late in the game against Chaparral also carried over into the big game against the Bulldogs. She scored 14 of her team’s first 16 points and it would be 25-19 at the half.
It seemed like the Pirates may pull away, but Virgin Valley was determined to keep things close. In the third quarter, the Bulldogs chipped away at the Pirate lead and it would be 36-35 in favor of the home team going into the final quarter.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Cornwall still had the hot hand. She went on a tear in the fourth quarter, scoring time and time again. Suddenly the Pirates saw themselves in the driver’s seat again with a 55-42 lead.
Moapa Valley would hold on for a 59-43 victory, and Cornwall’s 36 point game was not one that should be forgotten any time soon.
“We knew that this week was going to be huge,” Humes said. “As a coach, you want the wins to come easy, but at the same time if you can get the win with a little adversity, that’s even better. You want your girls to face some of those tight games. It couldn’t have worked out any better.”
Humes expressed praise for Cornwall, a team captain as a junior for the Pirates. “I kept telling her she went ‘legend’,” Humes said. “She just has this mentality where she refuses to lose and she found a way to go to a whole new level. Nothing really surprises me anymore with her. She’s willing to take the big shots and for this team we couldn’t ask for a better leader.”
A trademark for the Pirates has been their ability to finish games strong. Humes attributes that to strong bench play early in the game. “It’s just like chopping down a tree,” he said. “You keep chopping and eventually our depth would take over. It proved to be correct in both games where we were able to pull away in the fourth because we had fresher legs.”