The “play-in” game between the Miles Lady Bulldogs and Winters Lady Blizzards was everything that it was cracked up to be. The battle between the rival schools easily met everyone’s expectations. In the end, the Lady Dogs came away with the victory, but it wasn’t easy.

Both teams came into the game with their respective seasons on the line. The winner would advance to the playoffs and the loser would have their season ended. It was expected to be a physical game and it was, from the first second to the last second. The game was as physical as any game either team has played this season.

Winters and Miles both started off playing a full court defense and both teams did it well. The stars of both teams showed up and gave a great accounting of themselves. The Lady Blizzards senior point guard Marley Smith led the team as she’s done all season. It would be a difficult task to find any player in the district who simply enjoys the game more than Smith. On the floor she’s smiling and continually boosts her team’s morale, regardless of the situation. Her demeanor is encouraging enough without words but when she’s encouraging another player, it takes it to another level.

The Lady Blizzards shooting guard Karlee Busher is the other leader on the floor for Winters. She plays as hard as any player in the game and she seeks out contact. Busher and Smith make a challenging duo on offense and on defense.

The Lady Dogs made a great showing and coach Eubank was able to get the ladies to play their best basketball of the season. The Lady Dogs’ point guard Skyler Brooks, along with shooting guards Allie Kalina, Tycie Lange, Alexa Schwertner and power forward Regan Smithwick, were a formidable force on the court.

The 1st period was back and forth with the teams swapping 1-point and 2-point leads for most of the period. The fouls started stacking up for both teams but Miles had 4 fouls and only 4 points in the first 3 minutes of play. Miles soon got things on track and took an 8-5 lead, although the fouls continued with the team having 6 fouls, compared to 1 foul for Winters. The Lady Blizzards fought back and cut the lead to 10-7. The teams traded buckets and the score was 12-10 in less than a minute. Winters would hit a free throw and the period would end with Miles up 12-11. Miles had 6 fouls to Winters’ 2 fouls.

The fouls would continue throughout the game simply because of the fact that both teams were playing an equally physical game. No team got off an uncontested shot and each team played defense as well as they played offense. Rebounds were crucial, especially offensive rebounds, and Miles as a little better at pulling them down than Winters was.

Stopping Busher and Smith was a problem for the Lady Dogs, but stopping Brooks, Kalina and Lange was a problem for the Lady Blizzards. There was hard contact throughout the game and passing lanes were shut down almost immediately by both teams.

Miles increased their lead 14-11 when the 2nd period began. They had their lead up to 17-13 at one point but Winters once again fought back. The Lady Dogs would hit a free throw to make the score 18-13 when Winters hit 3 straight buckets to take a 19-18 lead. Four minutes through the 2nd period Miles had 8 fouls and Winters had racked up 5. Miles would then take a 20-19 lead on a pair of free throws. Once again Winters answered and took a 21-20 lead. Winters was pulling even with Miles in the fouls as they now had 8 fouls to Miles 9. The teams racked up 4 combined fouls in under 65 seconds at one point in the 2nd period.

The game seesawed back and forth for the rest of the 2nd period with the teams swapping leads once again. The period would end with Miles up 25-24. Both teams had 10 fouls by this point.

In the beginning of the 3rd period both teams hit 2 straight buckets to make the score 29-28 in favor of Miles. The Lady Blizzards refused to stay down and continually made small runs to even the game up. With a minute left in the 3rd period the Lady Dogs took a 35-33 lead. Another run by the Lady Blizzards, which was answered by Miles, had the 3rd period ending with a 39-39 tie. Each team only committed 3 fouls in the period.

The 4th period got off to a rocky start for the Blizzards when a player committed a foul and then a technical foul to give the Lady Dogs 4 straight free throws. Miles was able to take a 42-39 lead off of those free throws. The Lady Dogs knocked down another basket and took a 44-39 lead, but the Blizzards weren’t out of it. Throughout the game they had shown tenacity and that continued until the final buzzer. Smith hit a 3-point shot that cut the Miles lead to 44-42, but Winters had began making fouls due to the speed and physicality of the game, doing all that they could to slow down the Lady Dogs. Winters had 8 fouls, compared to Miles’ 5 fouls just 3 minutes into the period. Miles would extend their lead to 50-42 inside of 2 minutes. The key to Miles’ game in the 4th period was Smithwick being able to get behind the defense and score lay ups at the other end of the floor when Miles would get a rebound. On 3 such shots Smithwick was almost entirely alone under the basket. The Blizzards had a defense that was pressing the offense and focused on the ball to try and create turnovers, which gave Smithwick the opportunity to slip down the court without being noticed.

The game would end with Miles winning 57-49. One of the keys to their win is that they were making free throws while Winters missed several key free throws down the stretch. The Lady Blizzards were getting defended by a tough defense that didn’t give up any shots, and then they were playing hard on defense themselves.

Lange was the linchpin to the Miles win as she got several key rebounds on offense. Lange was a force of nature inside the paint, even though she was outsized most of the game. And while she might be outsized at times, she won’t be outworked. Lange’s determination and skill were a deadly combination that sealed the fate of the Lady Blizzards.

Smithwick has come a long way this season and she’s improving with every game. She has improved at blocking out under the basket and her timing to jump and get rebounds has improved as well. Kalina played hard the entire game, knocking down some important shots and fighting for rebounds. She is as tough as anyone in the game. She went down with a leg injury in the 4th period. This was Kalina’s second game back from a concussion and she was also playing with a hand/wrist injury.

After the game Winters’ coach Brandon Postell commented about the game, “Both teams fought hard. We beat each other up and these are fun games to play. It’s a neutral site and they just put the ball in the basket more than we did. That’s the name of the game. We missed a lot of lay ups and a lot of free throws. We left a lot on the floor. I’m proud of Miles because they pushed us and we pushed them. They pulled out a deserving win. We got a late technical foul in the fourth period and that kind of changed the momentum.” Postell was asked how well his team improved this year from last year, “It was a good season, watching these girls from not having varsity experience when I got here to where they are now. Last year we went 1-9 in district without a lot of close losses. This year we went 4-6 and then we lose the tiebreaker. But we had a lot of close losses. We went to Christoval and lost by 4 and went to Eldorado and lost by 3. We’ve turned the corner. Our biggest thing this year was trying to be consistent.”

The Lady Dogs coach Jim Eubank commented on their big win, “It was exactly what I anticipated. Winters is a physical team that is strong and they like to play a physical ballgame. That’s not real well suited to us but I felt that by and large we met their intensity. The fouls in the first half really got away from us and that worried me a lot because I didn’t now how we’d come out in the second half and keep people on the floor. We gave them some opportunities late that they didn’t capitalize on and we made some big plays late and made some key free throws.” Eubank spoke about Smithwick being able to get behind the defenses, “We did a good job of getting our heads up and finding Regan and Tycie toward the end of the game. Winters really wanted to try and push the pressure up, even more than they had in the whole ballgame, but once we got behind that first wave we had opportunities. It was everything that I expected it to be.”

Miles will take on Haskell in the first round of the playoffs on Monday. Haskell went 28-3 this season and 10-0 in district. The teams will square off in Colorado City at 6:30 p.m.