The Goddard game against the Highland Hornets looks like it was set in a scene out of Hoosiers. The gym was built in 1949, and with a $15 million, 167,000-square-feet athletic renovation, it was the perfect setting for a Sweet 16 basketball game.
It was all window dressing for what was to come. Once the game started, the Lady Hornets’ defense was as sweltering as a summer wave. It forced Goddard into 10 first-half turnovers. Highland’s defense was used to jump-start their offense as it was the Cailee Crawford show.
The one thing that Goddard coach Jared Neighbors could not simulate in practice is what his team faced in the game: height, talent, speed and quickness. That’s what the Lady Hornets had and gave to Goddard.
“We were prepared for their big three,” Neighbors said, “but it is hard to prepare for that in practice. Their support players were really good. We practiced against the boys and that helped a little bit, but this team is good. They’re tall, athletic and I give them all of the credit in the world.”
Goddard got physical and roughed up Highland on a number of occasions in an attempt to slow them down, but they had no answers for probably the best 4A high school basketball player in Crawford. She did it all, three-point shot, euro-step and simply driving the ball to the basket. At 6-foot-1, the Lady Rockets had no answers for her or her cohorts as they defeated Goddard, 65-34 Friday night at Highland High School.
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“They have three players that played real good,” Goddard coach Jared Neighbors said. “Their supporting cast played out of their minds. I give Highland all of the credit in the world. We didn’t shoot the ball well or play well. It wasn’t close. Had it been close, I would have been frustrated, we didn’t play our best game. Highland is good.”
At every turn, Goddard was rebuffed, when Neighbors inserted the hardnosed Tonya Ueland into the lineup to challenge Crawford, she picked up three fouls in less than four minutes on the floor.
Goddard showed fight throughout the game as Ueland wrestled a rebound away from Crawford under the basket and passed it to Sandoval as she scored to give Goddard momentum before halftime with Goddard trailing, 30-17.
The thing coach Neighbors can be proud of is that his team never backed down or quit. Sandoval was the team’s leading scorer with 21 points. She never quit and she kept shooting threes. Ambrosia Teasyatwho kept crashing the glass and getting rebounds. She kept taking it at the height of the Lady Hornets.
Goddard’s Sandoval went charging after Crawford and both players were assessed a technical foul, and both had something to say to each other as well. Goddard may have been defeated but they showed fight and didn’t back down mentally or physically. Goddard gave all they had, but Highland would block shots without jumping or leaving their feet. Highland was the better team Friday, and has a real shot at winning it all.
For Neighbors, they may have not ended the way he wanted, but they made the dance and had a shot to win it all. Neighbors will lose Aliyah Valdez and the Morley sisters, Lana and Kelsey. All of them finished a great career with the Rockets.
Next season is one of promise and they should be favored to win their district. If they cannot be complacent, bigger awards await. This team is young and was comprised of freshmen that played a lot of sophomores and juniors. For Neighbors, there is a lot to be excited about. This team knows what it takes to get to state and the competition they will face — this should fuel their offseason program.
“I’m so proud of my team,” Neighbors said. “They fought to the end, no matter the score. I’m going to miss our three seniors. Our seniors embraced our youth and played their role. We’re excited about the future. We threw the kitchen sink at Highland. I’m proud of our kids fighting. If you’re going to make it to ‘The Pit,’ you have to earn it. Our young kids got a taste and I’m excited. I’m disappointed we didn’t make it this year.”
For the Lady Rockets, no one should hang their head, they gave all they had and were beaten by a better team, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or email@example.com.