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Lady Warriors made history on the court

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Submitted Photo Senior Kaylee Stephens was named to the all-district team.

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Making history is what the Gateway Lady Warriors did during the 2019-2020 basketball season. They had 21 wins and only five losses, both firsts in the program’s history.

The Lady Warriors beat district rival and defending state champ the Tatum Lady Coyotes for the first time ever.

Gateway began the year at 4-1 before being humbled by this year’s 2A girls champ Mescalero, 59-19, at the Mescalero tournament in December.

That gut-check moment sparked a 14-game winning streak, also a first, which included beating Tatum at home in the first round of district play. “The team had discovered a confidence they had not experienced before,” Gateway coach Holly Tipton noted.

In their quest to win 15 consecutive games, Gateway traveled to Tatum on Feb. 18. In a nail-biter, the Lady Coyotes pulled out a 39-38 win. “That loss really stung. We had beaten them just two weeks before. We proved we could beat them. We felt confident going into that game that we could beat them again,” said Tipton.

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That loss exposed the Lady Warriors’ Achilles heel, which was no fault of their own. They had been blowing out their opponents all season and did not experience how to maintain late-game leads and close out their opponents. It would come back to haunt them and end their season.

To see how the Lady Warriors made history, it all began at a 2019 summer basketball camp in Alamogordo.

“We played a lot of basketball. But it was that one game against the Las Cruces junior varsity where I realized that we might have a special year,” said Tipton. “I don’t remember who won that game, and it didn’t matter. What impressed me was how we hung with them. Our girls competed against their girls, who are known to play ball.”

From that camp, Tipton employed a very aggressive defense it would take the entire team to execute through a platoon system. Opponents averaged about 30 points per game. There were seven games where the defense allowed under 20 points per game. Who can forget the Valentine’s Day massacre of Elida at the Warriors Gym, 51-12.

Also from that camp, seniors Kaylee Stephens and Sierra Fresquez emerged as the team leaders.

“The team went as they went,” Tipton said.

Gateway finished the regular season with a 21-3 record and entered the district tournament as the number one seed awaiting the survivor, which was their old nemesis Tatum — at stake the district championship.

In the championship game at Gateway, the Lady Warriors held the lead late in the fourth quarter. But they could not close out the game, because they didn’t know how. “Experience teaches you that,” Tipton said, as her team lost 32-29 and missed a chance at its first district trophy.

There was a silver lining in the loss. Gateway would be seeded sixth and host a first-round 1A playoff game against 11th seed Clovis Christian.

It was a nip-and-tuck game, with Gateway holding a six-point 25-19 lead with 50 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Clovis Christian outscored Gateway 7-0 down the stretch and won 26-25. Six of the seven points were two three-pointers. “I couldn’t believe it. They had not scored any three-pointers in the entire game,” Tipton recalled.

“It was a disappointing loss and it ended our season but it doesn’t take away what this team accomplished this year,” said Tipton.

And the post-season honors reflect this year’s success. Seniors Stephens and Fresquez were selected All-District. Fresquez was also selected for the All-Regional team.

Junior Taylor Higgins, freshman MJ Stephens also made All-District and sophomore Hannah Lilley was named honorable mention. The aforementioned players return next season along with Hannah’s twin, Sarah, and others from this year’s roster.

No doubt the team is loaded for next season and could very well be the favorite in 1A to take it all — perhaps making history again.

 

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