SIGNAL PEAK — Career victory No. 299 for Central Arizona College women's basketball coach Denise Cardenas was a relative breeze, especially considering it came in a playoff game.
The Vaqueras defeated Eastern Arizona 78-62 on Tuesday night at the George Young Activity Center and will play at Cochise on Friday for the Division I Region 1 title. Central led by as many as 30 points in beating the Gila Monsters for the third time in three meetings this season.
"We didn't have to be perfect tonight, but we're going to have to be pretty close on Friday," Cardenas said. "The little mistakes we were making, we shouldn't be making in March."
Central led 26-13 after one quarter, 44-30 at halftime and 66-39 heading into the final period.
The Vaqueras shot a pedestrian 36 percent from the field, going 15 for 42 in each half. But they did have their moments, making five 3-pointers in the first quarter and outscoring the Gila Monsters 22-9 in the third quarter.
"We passed out of double-teams well, and we got some good looks when we actually ran our offense," Cardenas said. "But we gave them too many open looks the entire game, which was frustrating."
The third-seeded Gila Monsters (18-13) also shot 36 percent from the floor, but had 25 fewer attempts than CAC. The Vaqueras were especially effective in rebounding their own misses, outscoring Eastern 24-3 in second-chance points.
Clark, the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference D-I player of the year and freshman of the year, scored 10 points in the third quarter. Pippin, who was named to the all-ACCAC second team, also scored 10 in the third. Guadian, selected to the all-ACCAC third team, netted four of Central's nine 3-pointers.
The Vaqueras made five 3-pointers in the first quarter, getting two apiece from Guadian and McCall. After missing nine of their first 11 shots, they hit seven of their last 14. Guadian's second-chance basket gave CAC its largest lead of the quarter at 26-9 with 57 seconds remaining.
The Gila Monsters then produced their most productive run of the game, outscoring Central 16-4 to narrow the margin to 30-25 with 4:21 left in the second quarter. The Vaqueras recovered nicely, ending the period with a 14-2 surge that included a pair of 3-pointers by Guadian.
Eastern went scoreless on its first seven possessions of the third quarter. Pippin's second-chance basket put Central up 53-32 with 5:07 remaining. Four consecutive makes, including three baskets by Clark during that stretch, boosted the lead to 66-36 with 29 seconds left.
Tianna Brown scored 27 points for the Gila Monsters, followed by Makenzie Bond with 14 and Shelvin Grewal with 11.
The Vaqueras spilt the regular-season series with Cochise, winning 62-58 in Douglas on Dec. 1 and losing 77-57 to the Apaches at home on Jan. 30. Central is looking to qualify for the NJCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015.
"We have to really pick it up if we're going to go down there and be successful," Cardenas said. "They have a lot of depth, so we need to stay out of foul trouble."
She said that with both teams having "good inside games, it's going to come down to who hits the most outside shots."