With the unprecedented chance to host a region semifinal game about to slip away, Cochise sophomore Justina Prairie Chief drove baseline and wound up too far under the hoop. In the fog of the scrum for her rebound, Prairie Chief found herself on the back end of the pile, just above the left block, and somewhat in shock that the buzzer hadn’t already sounded.
Cochise College sophomore Justina Prairie Chief, front, is mobbed by teammates after she made the game-winning basket in the Apaches’ 71-70 win over Pima College on Friday at the Douglas Campus. Matt Hickman/Wick News Service
“It was going so fast, I didn’t think I’d get it off in time, but I did — luckily,” said Prairie Chief, who finished with 11 points, all in the last 21 minutes. “The ball’s right there, I just thought, ‘grab it, shoot it again.’ It felt good, and I wanted it to go in, so it went in.”
It was a vital win for the Apaches, as it assured they will host Arizona Western tonight in the NJCAA Region I semifinals with the winner moving on to face Central Arizona, the nation’s No. 2-ranked team, for the championship and the right to move on to the national tournament. Had Prairie Chief’s follow-up not gone down, the Apaches would be making the long drive to Yuma.
“I just have faith in them,” second-year Cochise head coach Laura Hughes said. “There’s 12 seconds left, I’m not going to take a time out… I trust them to get it done, and they got it done again.”
On their way to their 25th win, the most in school history, the Apaches struggled mightily in the first half, falling behind by as many as 17 in the first half, before a Prairie Chief three made it 37-23 at the half.
“We were lazy is the best way to put it — we weren’t going after loose balls,” Hughes said. “I just challenged them at halftime and said, ‘work hard, this is your season, how do you want it to finish?’… That’s what’s good about having a veteran team with lots of sophomores. They responded and got it done.”
Cochise finally took the lead at the three-minute mark on a free-throw by Yvonte Neal, who finished with a game-high 19 points. After the score was knotted at 65-65, Prairie Chief, banked one in from the elbow, only to see Pima guard D.J. Davis nail a three that put the visitors on top 68-67 with 50 seconds left. Prairie Chief then blocked a Davis layup try, and the loose ball was recovered by Neal, who was fouled. In the aftermath of the whistle, tempers flared, and Flagrant 2 fouls were leveled against Neal and Pima’s Raja Moreno, calls which carry automatic ejections.
Jasmine Lemon replaced Neal and hit two foul shots to make it 69-68 with 23 seconds left, but Pima responded to take the lead back with eight seconds to play.
Though the Apaches managed the win, they’ll likely be without Neal, their top backcourt scorer, who will instead be serving an automatic one-game suspension for the playoff game against Arizona Western.
To make matters more vexing for Hughes, the Apaches were already without defensive specialist C.C. Rode, who is day-to-day with a knee injury.
“Yvonte is definitely a big part of our team,” Prairie Chief said. “The rest of us have to step up and do what we can to fill her shoes.”
The Cochise men’s basketball team needed no dramatics whatsoever in crushing Pima 99-59 Friday night.
Tevin Caldwell led Cochise with 15 points and Tim Jacobs, Demeco Blue and Ajak Magot all finished with 12 points, while Jerry Duckworth scored 10.
With the win, Cochise closed the regular season at 25-5 and 18-4 in Arizona Community College Athletic Conference standings.
Elsewhere Friday night, Central Arizona defeated Phoenix College to secure the No. 1 seed for the NJCAA Region I Playoffs which begin on Thursday.
The Vaqueros’ opponent will be Cochise which slides into the fourth seed.
Mesa defeated Arizona Western on Friday to secure the No. 2 seed, meaning the Thunderbirds will host third-seeded Arizona Western in the other semifinal.
Friday night’s win was the 399th in Jerry Carrillo’s 17-year tenure at Cochise College.