Rubalcaba is X factor in Tigers' overtime win

As she drives for a layup, Grand Junction’s Erika Meister runs into Fruita Monument’s defense, led by Sonya Lopez, left, and Kassidy Fair, 23 during Friday’s game at Grand Junction High School.

After scoring, Shafer Rubalcaba, 15, hits a free throw after being fouled to put Grand Junction up by 5 over Fruita Monument in overtime during Friday’s game at Grand Junction High School.

Shafer Rubalcaba did more than leave her mark on the fourth quarter and overtime Friday night. She took a hammer to a chisel and inscribed it in stone.

Whether it was a big shot, rebound, steal, tying up a loose ball, making a free throw or getting in a Fruita Monument player’s face on defense, Rubalcaba was there when Grand Junction needed her. And the Tigers needed her big-time to come back and edge the Wildcats 30-26 in overtime in a key Southwestern League girls basketball game.

Fruita played a game worthy of a victory, only to have the Grand Junction senior take it away. Rubalcaba finished with 20 points, a total she said she’s never attained before, and 13 of those points came in the fourth quarter and overtime.

“She’s just a battler all the time,” said Tigers coach Sam Provenza, whose squad improved to 15-1, 4-1 SWL. “She gives everything she’s got all the time. I really felt like her attitude was, ‘I’m not going to let our team lose this game.’ “

Rubalcaba was the wild card in an otherwise brilliant defensive night for the Wildcats, who refused to allow avenues inside for the Tigers, who usually get there with drives by point guard Sydni Brandon or passes into the paint to post players Sarah Wilkinson and Tori Catlett.

Denying the lane and anything easy was what the Wildcats (7-11, 3-2 SWL) set out to do, playing the majority of the game in what they call their “red” defense, “which is every player has a foot in the lane,” Fruita coach Michael Wells said. “We wanted to keep Sydni out of the lane and limit the touches of their bigs. We accomplished what we wanted to do. We just needed to rebound out of it better.”

As for Rubalcaba, Wells lauded her talent and effort.

“She hit shots tonight. That’s what seniors do,” Wells said. “We took away who we wanted to take away, and Shafer took up the slack. She beat us.”

The key to Fruita’s defense, Provenza said, was senior forward Vanessa Herrera.

“Vanessa Herrera defends real well inside, and she made things difficult for us,” he said. “She just battles you. She’s tough in there.”

Fruita led 14-9 at halftime and 18-14 after three quarters, but Rubalcaba scored on the first possession of the fourth quarter, taking a baseline pass across the lane from Brandon for an easy 6-footer.

The next time down the court, after Elisha Jahnke rebounded a missed free throw by a teammate, she fed the ball to Rubalcaba, who drained a 19-footer from the top of the key for a 19-18 lead, the Tigers’ first since the middle of the second quarter.

Fruita responded with a three-point play and a layup, both by Herrera, and a free throw by Taylor Eatwell to go up 24-19 with 2 minutes, 50 seconds left in regulation.

With 2:06 remaining, Rubalcaba emerged again, making a jumper in the lane and the ensuing free throw for a three-point play, cutting the deficit to two points.

A Brandon layup, her only points of the night, with 1:12 left tied the game 24-24 and closed the scoring in regulation.

In the four-minute extra session, Rubalcaba delivered the first points, a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2:07 remaining. She added two free throws on Grand Junction’s next possession for a 29-24 lead, and after four misses at the free-throw line by teammates, she made one of two foul shots with eight seconds left.

“When you go out and know everything’s on the line, you want to work your hardest,” Rubalcaba said of her determination down the stretch.

She also was the only Tiger who could make a free throw, sinking six of eight attempts, while the rest of the team made two of 13 tries.

“That’s something I definitely work on,” Rubalcaba said of her free throws. “I’m glad I could step up for my team tonight.”

Provenza could laugh about it after the game, mentioning how his team the other night in practice was shooting free throws and had to run sprints every time someone missed.

“I think out of 18 kids we missed two free throws,” he said.

Wells applauded his team’s effort in taking the Tigers to the hilt. He just wished they had the reward of victory to show for it.

“Our girls deserved to win the game, and so did Junction,” he said. “I feel for those girls. I think they did enough to win.”


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