By Bruce Whetten
DOUGLAS — For the first time in over 30 years the Cochise College women’s basketball team is headed back to the NJCAA tournament.
A tenacious defense stymied Arizona Western all night long on Friday in the Region 1 championship game that was played at Cochise, holding the Matadors to single-digit scoring in two of the four quarters in what was an impressive, and shocking, 62-33 win.
Cochise jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead and never looked back. Elaine Arocha’s pair midway through the second period gave the Apaches a 14-point cushion.
Western responded with six straight points to pull within eight. That would be as close as they would get the rest of the night. Baskets by Ciara Fields, Shannon Powell and Sophia Elenga and a 3 from Jordyn Penniman gave Cochise a 32-15 lead with 20 seconds remaining in the first half.
The Lady Apaches maintained their defensive intensity in the second half, outscoring the Matadors 17-5 in the third period as Cochise upped its lead to 49-22 heading into the fourth quarter to bring the hometown crowd to its feet as they could smell the championship that was just 10 minutes away.
As the final seconds ticked off the Cochise players and coaches cheered and hugged before finally being allowed to storm the court in celebrating something that hadn’t been done since 1985.
Fields led all scorers with a game high 16 points and was named the Region 1 championship game MVP. Powell contributed nine, Mamita Diagne followed with eight, and Sophia Anaya and Endia Peterson each had six.
“This is so sweet,” Fields, sophomore, said afterward. “We have worked so hard for this. It hasn’t been easy but tonight we did it.”
Cochise College head coach Laura Hughes, the ACCAC Coach of the Year, said she’s very happy for her players.
“Tonight was a great team effort,” she said. “We dominated this game from start to finish.”
Hughes said since taking over the program six years ago the goal has been to win a conference championship and get to nationals.
“That is finally coming true,” she said. “I can’t tell you enough how proud I am of these girls. They bought into what we’re doing and now we’re going to nationals. I’m really happy for them.”
Nationals will take place in Lubbock, Texas March 20-25 at 8:00 p.m. The Apaches will face off Wabash Valley. The game can be watched live at: http://www.njcaatv.com