By Daniel Gaona
Special to West Valley Preps
VAIL – Danielle Cassady and Emily Henderson helped Ironwood’s girls basketball team light up the scoreboard week after week down the final stretch of the season, as the Eagles put up more than 50 points on a regular basis and rattled off 11 straight wins.
But the senior duo and the rest of the Eagles were left wondering where that formula was on Tuesday night.
Tenth-seeded Ironwood was unable to find its offensive rhythm as No. 7 Vail Cienega pulled away in the second half for a 43-37 win in the first round of the 5A state playoffs, sending the Eagles home much earlier than they expected.
“Unfortunately we picked a bad day to play our worst game,” said second-year coach Jaime Carreon. “We couldn’t buy a basket to save our life. We were not on a roll, not in a rhythm like we normally are.
“That was not us at all.”
Cassady and Henderson each scored 15 points as the Eagles lost for the first time since Dec. 31. However, since that 37-32 defeat, Ironwood was averaging 58.9 points a game and had scored at least 60 points in five games.
“We came out super slow and that’s not like us,” Cassady said. “We usually come out with energy, come strong, flying to the basket, flying on defense. We just weren’t there tonight.”
It looked as if Cassady had found the spark her offense needed, when she drained a go-ahead three-pointer in the final seconds of the first quarter. The Eagles pushed their lead to 14-10 midway through the second, after a Henderson layup set up by a steal.
But hosts responded with two quick baskets to tie the game and eventually regained the lead. That held true until Cassady hit a pair of free throws just before the half to tie the game at 16.
Cienega came out firing in the third quarter and jumped out to a 21-16 lead but a three-pointer and a score on a drive by Henderson tied things up once again. Only this time, the Bobcats went ahead 24-21 on a triple by sophomore Julie Hoover just 13 seconds later and held on to the lead the rest of the way.
“Coming out of the half, when they went on their run, we just couldn’t come back from that,” Cassady said. “We’ve got to come back with our run and we didn’t.
“It stings; we expected to go further with the season that we had and how good we were feeling coming into this game.”
Cassady made things interesting in the final minute when she sank a deep three-pointer to make it 40-37 but Cienega made 3 of 4 free throws from there to seal it.
“We couldn’t put the ball in the hoop like we normally do,” Carreon said. “That wasn’t us tonight and that’s why it’s a little frustrating.”
While Cassady and Henderson move along, Carreon is eager about the future of his squad. He had five freshmen on varsity this season, led by Mehgan Strickler who averaged 5.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and a team-high 2.3 steals per game.
Strickler said she’s more than ready to assume the leadership role.
“I’m going to definitely step up and have my mind set on winning state,” said Strickler, who led the team with 2.3 steals per game. “Now that I know what varsity is all about I’m going to come out stronger, work over on the summer and come back better.”