Sapphira Sandoval had a pair of crucial fourth-quarter three-pointers.
Russell Huffman | El Defensor Chieftain

ALAMO—Alamo Navajo’s season-opener was a roller-coaster ride as the Lady Cougars bounced to an early lead, rebounded from a Jemez Valley surge, and held off the Lady Warriors on Nov. 22 for a 52-47 win.

Trailing 37-34, Alamo used a team effort and an 18-10 final-quarter run with scoring from Hailey Apachito, Sapphira Sandoval, Claire Layla, Tiana and Koolonna Apachito.

For first-year coach J.J. Apachito, it was the kind of performance he expected from his Lady Cougars (1-0) as they opened with a 7-2 run before Jemez (0-1) worked its way back into contention.

“Our goal going in was to shake the rust off because we went to a scrimmage, and we didn’t have all our players,” Apachito said. “One was at an all-star game, and the couple just didn’t have enough practice yet.”

Alamo’s final four in the state volleyball playoffs was the culprit in some players being short on practice.

“Right now, we are working on getting into basketball shape, so we have a lot of running to do,” Apachito said.

Hailey Apachito found her shot quickly and navigated neatly through the Lady Warriors’ to pace the Lady Cougars’ charge with 11 first-quarter points. Still, Jemez stayed in contention with a late run to trail 11-9 headed into the second quarter.

Alamo showed some early season jitters, and little sloppiness on defense allowed Jemez some three-point play opportunities that the Lady Warriors turned into a 25-22 lead at halftime.

Jemez was also getting an edge under the basket, and that was an adjustment Apachito addressed in the locker room.

“I feel like we worked hard enough to get the rebound, but we just can’t hold on to the ball,” Apachito said. “They got the rebound at first, but they didn’t end up with the ball, and they went up with it. That’s the adjustment we tried to make at halftime. I told them you guys are working hard getting the rebound, but they need to maintain possession of the ball.”

Playing to a 12-12 tie in the third quarter left Alamo trailing by three points, but the Lady Cougars returned to the form they showed early on and rallied.

Layla Apache’s insertion into the game helped with the rebounding, and so did the Lady Cougars’ 18 points.

“When we got to the fourth quarter, we finally got rid of the jitters. Everybody’s shot was long early, so I think it was just excitement,” Apachito said. “The girls got into the groove and started hitting their shots.”

Sandoval was instrumental in helping the Lady Cougars rally as she nailed a pair of three-pointers in the final stanza, and she was second in scoring behind Hailey Apachito’s game-high 18 points.

Adding Alamo’s scoring was Tiana Apachito 5, Claire Apachito 4, Koolonna Apachito 4, Layla Apache 4 and Valavria Cheney 2.

Alamo will now turn its attention toward Magdalena’s Steer Stampede, and Apachito hopes his team will be in game shape but also to slow things down a bit.

“It’s an important tournament. Honestly, what we need to do is relax a little bit. We need to relax and get in the flow. Everybody needs to do their part. Things will fall into place. We have a tough schedule this year,” Apachito said.