PUEBLO WEST — Hannah Simental might have scored a game-high 18 points on Thursday, but none were more important than her first five of the fourth quarter.
After trailing for most of the game, her steal and score followed by a big 3-pointer proved to be the difference as Class 4A No. 3 Pueblo West girls basketball edged No. 2 Pueblo South 34-29 at Jerry Kersey Gymnasium.
With the Cyclones (15-2 overall, 4-0 South Central) frantically pushing for the lead, the final moments are all a haze for the junior guard.
"It's all kind of mixed in there," she said. "Whoever was pressuring the ball, I saw they were really getting into them so I just picked up too."
That layup gave West its first lead since early in the second quarter. They came out of the first quarter with a 6-3 lead after both teams started slow, but then had to battle the rest of the way.
"We talked about the mental part of the game," West coach Gil Lucero said. "When we finally did get the lead, we have good guards and they were able to spread the ball out and utilize that clock."
The Colts (14-2, 3-1) had taken control in the second quarter mostly thanks to the strong post presence of Gabi Lucero. She scored eight of her team-high 15 in that quarter to give South a 19-14 lead at the half.
But the defensive pressure on her increased in the second half as Lucero threw Shae Gallery and Taylor Dabovich down low to double team Lucero.
The plan paid off. Lucero was limited to six points in the second half and scored the lone point for South in the fourth quarter.
"That's why we try to schedule teams like Valor, because they have a big girl," Lucero said. "We want to play the best out there because that's what prepares you for these moments."
As the game tightened up heading into the fourth quarter nerves seemed to creep in on the South side. Coach Shannon Lane took just as much responsibility for that as the Colts are still adapting to freshmen Chloe Keck and Mackenzie Patterson playing prominent roles for the team.
"We lost our composure a bit at the end," Lane said. "I look at myself and I should've called timeout when we couldn't get the ball up. I didn't even remind Kenzie, I have a 14-year-old bringing up the ball, I didn't tell her that we still had one timeout."
The lost mental edge boiled over when it came time for the Colts to foul. Lucero didn't make a play on the ball forcing the officials to call for an intentional which gave Simental two free throws and the Cyclones got the ball right back.
The two teams will meet again on Feb. 12, this time in South's gym and the expectation is that round two will be every bit as intense on Thursday's game.
And once the playoffs begin later in February, there is little doubt that the Pueblo area will send two talented teams deep into the bracket.