Defense lifts GJ past Chaparral

Natalie Baker is tall, athletic, strong, versatile and determined. She also essentially is Chaparral High School’s offense, and every opponent knows it.

Grand Junction was no different, focusing on the University of Wyoming recruit and doing it well enough to turn back the Wolverines 35-25 in nonleague girls basketball Friday night.

“We’re going to see that all year long,” Chaparral coach Tony Speights said of the defensive attention on Baker. “They know. Everybody knows. It’s no secret.”

The Tigers (11-0) limited Baker to 12 points, then did enough against a good Wolverine defense to keep them at arm’s length throughout the second half.

“We knew we had to stop her and get in her face,” Grand Junction senior center Sarah Wilkinson said. “We had to get pressure on her and know where she was on the court at all times.”

The Tigers did that, but Grand Junction coach Sam Provenza said Baker still made him nervous because she’s a constant threat whether she’s playing under the basket, driving or shooting from outside.

“My biggest concern,” he said, “was in the second half she would have the ball in her hands the entire time. We were able to get it out of her hands. ... With that team, you want everyone else to have the ball. ... I thought we did a good job when she caught it, too.”

Besides good defense by both teams, a slow start to the game by kept the final score low. Three minutes, 40 seconds passed before Chaparral (6-5) scored. Grand Junction didn’t get its first basket until 3:35 remained in the opening quarter.

Provenza chalked up the start to adrenaline. He said he’s proud of the way his players invite good competition, but they were a little too fired up Friday.

“We were taking 15-foot jump shots from 10 feet away,” Provenza quipped.

The Wolverines led 9-6 when Baker made a 3-pointer with 1:16 left in the first quarter, but two beautiful passes led to Grand Junction baskets and a lead the Tigers never relinquished.

First, Wilkinson caught a pass as she cut through the lane for a layup with 48 seconds left. Then, Elisha Jahnke drew the defense on a drive and dished to Sydni Brandon in the lane for an easy basket at the buzzer and a 10-9 lead.

Jahnke surfaced again in the second quarter, hitting an 18-footer from the left baseline to open the second-quarter scoring and adding a 3-pointer from the left wing with 1:41 left in the half to extend the Tigers’ lead to
17-10, the score at the half.

Jahnke finished with nine points and praise from Provenza, who said, “She’d been struggling with her shot the last few games. This was a really nice game for her.”

Chaparral closed within four points once in the third quarter and on the first possession of the fourth quarter, but the Tigers pushed the lead back to 10 points, 30-20, and the Wolverines got no closer than eight points thereafter.


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