A convincing win by Green Valley over Cheyenne and a lopsided loss by Needles earlier in the day had many thinking the host Gators would cruise to a second easy win Friday in the Gator Winter Classic.
Abby Chandler, Lexus Rodriguez and a pesky Needles squad, however, gave the Gators a run for their money.
“They’re a scrappy, solid team,” Green Valley coach Eric Johnston said. “They didn’t drive two hours here for nothing.”
Rianna Rudolph played lock-down defense, intercepted several passes and scored a team-high 17 points as the Gators held off Needles, 48-46.
“Rianna has come a long way, and she’s only a junior,” Johnston said. “With her energy, she’s like a bull on the court. She’s nonstop. You look at her and she looks right through you; she’s ready to go. She gives 110 percent all the time. She’s a great kid.”
Green Valley failed to consistently find its long-range shooting stroke in the first half, and trailed the Mustangs for most of the game.
Chandler directed traffic for Needles, keeping the team alive with excellent hustle, and connected on a half-court shot as time expired in the third quarter.
She fouled out midway through the fourth quarter, though, leaving the Mustangs without their top player.
“We got lucky that (Chandler) fouled out; that definitely helped us out,” Johnston said. “They definitely kept their composure for the last minute which was good to see.”
Rodriguez (18 points) carried the scoring load for Needles after Chandler fouled out, sinking two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to keep the Mustangs steady the rest of the game.
Maggie Manwarren paced the Gators offense with her superior court awareness, leading Green Valley on the comeback trail in the third and fourth quarters.
Manwarren made 3 of 4 free throws in the fourth quarter, including one in the final minute that gave the Gators a two-point lead.
“Her energy really drives the whole team,” Johnston said. “At the end she knocked down one of the free throws that gave us a little cushion. She keeps everybody settled down and ready to go.”
Earlier in the day, Johnston rested Manwarren and Rudolph for much of the second half against Cheyenne after the Gators were comfortably ahead in an effort to keep the dynamic duo fresh for the remainder of the tournament.
“With two games today and hopefully three games tomorrow, we need (Maggie) and Rianna at full strength,” Johnston said following the win over Cheyenne. “That’s tough, six games in three days, but they’re young, they’re kids — they’ll play all day if you let them.”
Rancho 64, White Pine 39 — Tatianna Lee scored 19 points and LaKissa Martin had 18 points to lead the Rams over the Bobcats.
Darje Martin finished with 14 points for Rancho, which led 36-18 at halftime.
Bailey Moore registered 22 points for the Bobcats.
Green Valley 62, Cheyenne 41 — Manwarren scored 20 points as the Gators defeated the Desert Shields.
Green Valley outscored Cheyenne 43-23 in the middle two quarters.
Lajuana Brown finished with 15 points, and teammate Bria Buchanan added 12 points for the Desert Shields.
Las Vegas 53, Needles 36 — Shomari Harris tallied 17 points as the Wildcats ran past the Mustangs.
Matti Ventling contributed 11 points for Las Vegas, which outscored Needles 20-5 in the third quarter.
Chandler scored 15 of her 19 points in the fourth quarter to pace the Mustangs.
Westchester (Calif.) 65, Del Sol 21 — Ahtenna Jones scored 20 points to lead the Comets over the Dragons.
Westchester held Del Sol scoreless in the first quarter and allowed seven points in each of the following three quarters.
Melissa DeSantiago led Del Sol with six points.
Rancho 61, Del Sol 49 — Lee led all scorers with 30 points, and Martin added 16 points as the Rams outlasted the Dragons.
Chloe Cabanas scored 16 points, Rela Coleman had 15 points, and DeSantiago finished with 13 points for Del Sol.
Las Vegas 52, Cheyenne 38 — Harris scored 17 points, and Ventling added 12 points as the Wildcats downed the Desert Shields.
Las Vegas outscored Cheyenne 14-1 in the first quarter, with the Desert Shields’ only point coming from Brown, who finished with 13 points.