It took a while for the stage fright to dissipate, but when it did, Cienega was off and running.
Besides shaking off the nerves, Cienega also had to fight off a pesky Cibola team Tuesday that was ahead during the majority of the first half. But near the end of the first half is when Cienaga started to assert itself and didn’t relinquish the lead again en route to a 62-45 win at Jobing.com Arena.
The victory advanced Cienega to the Division II state semifinals for the first time in the program’s 12-year history.
“I think the girls were a little bit nervous in the beginning,” Cienega head coach Paul Reed said. “This was the first time we were on this stage. We had to let the nerves settle. Cibola is a well-coached team and was aggressive.”
The lights will get a bit brighter for Cienega (25-1) on Thursday, when Reed’s team plays the D-II defending champ, Saguaro, at Jobing.com with a state championship berth at stake.
The fairly young Cienega team is athletic and quick and prefers to run up and down the court with its guards just as it did at the start the second half, when it converted four of its first five second half shots. Cienega also starts an outside shooting threat in senior Gabby Banales, who tied a season high with 17 points Tuesday, including going 4 for 7 from 3-point land.
Cibola’s Malakah Jackson also scored 17 points. Kelaiah Dillard and Denesia Smith scored a combined 25 points for Cienega, which is the first basketball team — boys or girls — to reach the state semifinals for that school.