AUSTIN – It was no surprise that the Roscoe Highland Lady Hornets tried to control Saltillo’s leading scorer and rebounder, Victoria Stretcher, Friday in the state semifinal game.
It was also no surprise even to Highland head coach Shea Baucom that other Saltillo players took up the challenge.
Saltillo’s junior point guard Kendall Bain scored a game-high 14 points and senior Andrea Tippit added nine points and eight rebounds, and the Lady Lions put on a stellar defensive team showing in a 41-19 victory at the Frank Erwin Center on the University of Texas campus.
The Lady Lions (32-5) will play for the first state championship in school history when they take on Whitharral (37-4) at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Erwin Center.
Whitharral won their semifinal game 58-45 over Leakey.
“She [Stretcher] is definitely somebody that you’ve got to try to shut down, but they have multiple weapons,” Baucom said after the game. “She’s as good a post player as we’ve seen. They played a team game.”
Playing with a seven-player rotation, Saltillo head coach Garry Davison had all seven players record at least one steal as the Lady Lions forced 19 Highland turnovers. Conversely, Saltillo had just six turnovers, including a mere one from Bain, who did the majority of the ball handling.
“Kendall’s a little spark plug,” Davison said of the only underclassman among his starting five. “I really thought she stepped up. Sometimes you’re here in the Erwin Center, and some kids can get the big eyes, but I didn’t see that from her. She did a great job of running the offense and took what was given. When they tried to double Vic, she made them pay.”
In fact, it was Bain who scored the team’s first five points. After both teams struggled offensively in the first quarter, Bain got fouled by Highland’s 6-1 center, Sierra Allen. She made both free throws and on the team’s next possession, hit a jumper while being fouled for an and-1.
The Lady Lions would never relinquish that 5-0 lead by holding Highland (31-5) to just one bucket in the quarter, taking a 13-2 lead into the second period. The Lady Lions closed the first period on an 8-0 run fueled by a 3-pointer by Ariel Tippit, followed by a midrange jumper from Karli Brewer, a free throw from Brewer and a short jumper by Stretcher.
The Saltillo defense was brutal the entire game, but especially in the first period when they forced seven turnovers and held the Lady Hornets to 1-of-8 shooting from the field. Overall, Highland made just 6-of-32 field goals (18.8 percent).
“I really thought out kids stepped up. Our kids played such good defense, limiting them to one shot most of the time,” Davison said. “I thought we had good high-pressure defense. We’re not going to come out in full court pressure, but what we do, we do pretty well.”
The Lady Lions got the opening bucket of the second quarter on a Chelsea Moore jumper, then a pair of free throws by Bain stretched the Saltillo advantage to 17-2 with 6:45 to play in the half.
Bain said she had her mind made up before the game started that it would be critical for her to play well.
“A lot of teams try to take Victoria away because she’s such a great player all the way around. I knew I had to bring something to the table,” Bain said. “Once they start taking the big girl away, you’ve got to find another way to get to the goal. I just put it in my mind that I had to do something.”
After Saltillo went up, 18-2 on a free throw by Brewer with 5:06 left in the second period, Highland put on a mini-run by closing the score to 19-7, but Bain hit a crucial jump shot with 2:01 to play to give Saltillo a 21-7 halftime cushion.
In the second half, the Lady Lions were even more deliberate on offense, often running more than a minute off the clock on a single possession to add to Highland’s desperation to come back.
“I think once they got a little bit of lead, we started rushing it at that point. I think we were surprised at their overall size,” Highland’s Baucom said of Stretcher (6-1), the Tippit twins and Haylee Clover (all 5-10). “It definitely affected us. We never got in a rhythm offensively.”
Meanwhile, Saltillo had seven players score at least one bucket.
Davison said it helps to have an outstanding passing center in Stretcher, who finished with four points, five rebounds and three assists.
She’s probably the best passing big girl in our classification in the state, bar none,” the coach said. “When they double her, she finds the open cutter. I knew she had four points today, but she accounted for probably 34.”
Bain again opened the second half scoring for Saltillo, while Andrea Tippit added a jumper and Clover banked in a layup off a Brewer assist in a low-scoring third quarter that saw Saltillo lead 27-9.
Highland scored more points in the fourth quarter (10) than they did in the previous three quarters combined (nine), but Saltillo kept pace, scoring 14 points. And when the Lady Lions really needed a momentum-breaking bucket after Highland had cut the lead to 31-15, it was Bain once again who hit a dagger 3-pointer with 3:48 to play that finally sealed the victory.
Along with the combined 23 points from Bain and Andrea Tippit, Brewer finished with six points, Ariel Tippit had four points, and Moore and Clover added two points each. Moore also hauled down five rebounds and added two blocked shots.
Highland was led by six points and five rebounds from Beth Richburg, four points and eight rebounds from Sierra Allen and four points from Hannah Allen.
Though Highland outrebounded Saltillo 31-27, the Lady Hornets had just six offensive rebounds for just five second-chance points.
Saltillo shot 14-42 overall from the field (33.3 percent), including 2-of-9 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Follow us on twitter @mySSnews for reports on the game.
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