Eastern New Mexico University senior guard Missy Kirkland drives to the basket against Tarleton State’s D’Anna Dingler in Saturday’s Lone Star Conference South Division women’s game at Greyhound Arena. (Freedom Newspapers: Karl Terry)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — Roni Gomez knows she’s never going to be a big scorer, but she realizes there are other ways to contribute in a basketball game.
The junior guard from Portales came off the bench to help Eastern New Mexico University’s women step up their defensive pressure and the Zias rallied from an early 10-point deficit to beat Tarleton State 59-54 Saturday in the Lone Star Conference South Division and regular-season finale for both teams at Greyhound Arena.
Struggling to get points themselves, the Zias (14-12, 5-9 South) extended their defensive pressure and held the TexAnns (16-9, 8-6) to just 1-for-11 shooting with 10 turnovers over the final 12 minutes of the half, turning a 17-7 deficit into a 23-22 lead at halftime.
Gomez and senior guard Heather Brown, who scored 20 points, shared much of the responsibility on TexAnns point guard and scoring leader Katie Crawford, who got her average with 12 points but was forced to work hard getting the ball up the court.
Senior forward Elizabeth Richards added 13 points for ENMU.
“Defense is my strong point,” said Gomez, daughter of Portales High girls coach Brenda Gomez. “He (Zias coach Linden Weese) just said to pressure her, and she didn’t like the pressure.
“I just love defense. You can always play hard and control your defense; on offense, sometimes the shots just don’t fall. Defense comes from the heart.”
After the teams spent much of the half exchanging the lead, Gomez put the Zias in front 45-44 on a 3-pointer with 6:39 to go. Tarleton regained the lead briefly, but the Zias went on a 9-2 run after that and Gomez added four free throws in the final 30 seconds.
Weese said the Zias’ plan was to make the TexAnns work fullcourt.
“We felt like we could play 94 feet for 40 minutes better than they could,” he said. “Missy (Kirkland) and Roni both played well, and we got Heather enough looks that she got 20 points.”
Freshman forward Krystal Cole led Tarleton with 14 points and nine rebounds, but the TexAnns fell into a three-way tie with Abilene Christian and Angelo State for second in the division.
Meantime, the Zias secured the program’s first winning record since 2003-04.
“I’m proud of the team,” said Weese, who completed his first season with the program. “We talked about how this was a week to play for pride, and we showed it. I think this group has laid the groundwork for the future of the program.”
In addition to Brown, Richards and Kirkland, other Zias seniors playing their final game were Rochelle Vance, Megan Ratliff and Riikka Lehtonen.