Clutch Wildcat: LaBonde’s big shot helps Fruita get past GJ

Fruita Monument’s Taylor Johnson, 44, scores two of her game-high 22 points Friday night in the Wildcats’ 44-42 victory over Grand Junction. Johnson was big in the first half, scoring 12 points.

Fruita’s Keila Utu tries to find her way around the defense of Grand Junction’s Fawn Brady, 15, on Friday night in the Wildcats’ 44-42 victory.

Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games.

Fruita Monument’s Lauren LaBonde fits that description.

The sophomore guard was big on offense, and defense, for the Wildcats on Friday night, hitting the game-winning 3-pointer with 25 seconds left in a 44-42 win.

“I knew from the time (LaBonde) let it go it was in,” Fruita Monument coach Dan Schmalz said. “You have to be fearless to take that shot, and she’s been fearless all year long.”

LaBonde had knocked down two 3-pointers earlier in the game, and said that gave her the confidence to take the decisive shot.

“It was open and I had made some shots during the game, so I crossed my fingers and it went in,” LaBonde said. “It was a sigh of relief just to know that we had the lead again.”

The Tigers (12-7, 5-1 Southwestern League) trailed the entire game before Jeslyn Szabo capped a 13-3 fourth-quarter run with a layup with 33 seconds remaining to put Grand Junction up 42-41.

“I was most proud of us being able to come back,” Grand Junction coach Sam Provenza said. “But I told the kids the first three minutes is as important as the last three minutes, and we lost the game in the first three minutes.”

The first quarter wasn’t kind to the Tigers in the third meeting of the season between Grand Junction and Fruita Monument (11-8, 4-2, SWL).

The Wildcats’ Taylor Johnson came out on fire, scoring the first five points of the game on an offensive rebound and a 3-pointer.

Fruita Monument held Grand Junction scoreless for the first seven minutes, employing a man-to-man defense against the Tigers’ top two scorers, Fawn Brady and Paula Lage.

The Wildcats’ Jessica Sinner was matched up with Brady and LaBonde guarded Lage. The other three Wildcats’ defenders played a zone, which forced other Grand Junction players to take shots.

“It was great individual efforts from Lauren and Jessica,” Schmalz said. “They limited (Brady and Lage) to shots they didn’t want to take, and I don’t know if they took a clean shot all game.”

Provenza said the Tigers weren’t surprised by the Wildcats’ defensive scheme.

“We were prepared for their triangle-and-two, and we worked on it this week because I had a hunch it was coming,” Provenza said. “But it took us a while to get comfortable.”

Johnson was a force in the first half, scoring 12 points to propel the Wildcats to a 22-16 halftime lead.

“I remained calm and played my game,” said Johnson, who hit two 3’s in the first half “I didn’t take silly shots and just took what was open.”

After Fruita Monument surged to a 38-29 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Tigers responded with their run.

“We got tired and gave up some easy stuff,” Schmalz said. “But in the end, we were the attackers tonight and forced them into shots they didn’t want to take.”

Johnson and LaBonde combined to score 40 of the Wildcats’ points — Johnson had a game-high 22 and LaBonde added 18.

Brady and Szabo, who both had 10 points, led Grand Junction.

“Junction has been our rival and they came in thinking this was going to be an easy win,” LaBonde said. “We gave them a fight.”


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