When Stuart Humes took over the Moapa Valley girls basketball team five years ago, they struggled to win any games. Now, the Pirates are one win away from a region title and punched a ticket to the Class 3A state tournament.
From down 11 points in the first half against Cheyenne on Thursday, the Pirates rallied in the second half to win 57-53 in the Class 3A Southern Region semifinals at Sunrise Mountain.
Moapa Valley, which outscored the Desert Shields 34-19 in the second half, will meet Virgin Valley in the title game at 4 p.m. Saturday. The rivals played twice in the regular season with the Bulldogs taking both games.
The momentum was squarely on the side of Cheyenne at the end of the first half, but Humes never wrote off his team.
“We couldn’t handle their pressure a little bit in the first half,” he said. “But I knew that once we calmed down and played our game, if we were confident and strong with the ball, I knew we could get back into it.”
Moapa Valley (25-5) went on a 15-6 run to open the third quarter. The Pirates got 15 points in the second half from sophomore Lainey Cornwall to spark the comeback.
Cornwall led the team with 25 points.
Cheyenne (18-7) was led in scoring by senior Ejanae Coopwood with 15 points.
It was the defense that clinched it for the Pirates, as Cheyenne had trouble even holding onto the ball at times in the second half.
“That’s really been our strong suit the whole year was our defense,” Humes said. “We made an adjustment to make sure they weren’t getting out in transition. We wanted to make sure they had to run some offense.”
The adjustments clearly worked for Moapa Valley, as the Desert Shields didn’t get their first points of the third quarter until about halfway through the period.
“Once we started defensive rebounding and were able to take care of the ball, we were able to seize control,” Humes said.
Moapa Valley finally took a 45-44 lead on their first possession of the fourth quarter and didn’t look back.
Humes gave credit to the comeback to the fans who came out and made themselves known early and often on Thursday.
“The community does a really good job of supporting the local kids, and to have their support today was huge,” Humes said. “I don’t know if we make that comeback without the crowd support.
Humes was excited about his team’s progress since he took over and believed at the beginning of the season that he had a group that was a contender for the state title.
“We expect another hard-fought battle,” Humes said of the region final. “We felt like we let a couple things get away from us in the first games and hope the third time’s the charm.”
Virgin Valley 51, Desert Pines 45 — Emma Barnum scored a team-high 16 points, and the Bulldogs defeated the Jaguars in the other semifinal.
Virgin Valley (22-3) led throughout, but Desert Pines made it a physical matchup, which allowed them to hang around. Virgin Valley went 25-for-40 from the free-throw line.
“My kids were pretty confident,” Virgin Valley coach Chimane Creer said. “They just knew they had to play a little better defense and make some adjustments.”
Seniors Bernice Fiso and Briana Todd added 13 points each for Virgin Valley.
Desert Pines (15-14) was led by sophomore Trisa Butler with 10 points.
“Momentum’s always a good thing and so I’m hoping that will carry us all the way through,” Creer said. “That’s what we’re looking for.”
Contact reporter Bill Slane at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4559. Follow @bill_slane on Twitter.