AUSTIN – If the third time is indeed the charm, as it was for Whitharral on Saturday, then the Saltillo Lady Lions can look forward to their next trip to the UIL Girls Basketball State Tournament with even greater satisfaction.
The Lady Lions, in Austin for the second time in school history, came up short in the Class A, Div. II championship game to Whitharral, 45-36, at the Erwin Center on the University of Texas campus.
It was Whitharral’s third straight appearance in the tournament after the Lady Panthers had lost in their previous two trips.
Despite the loss, Saltillo senior center Victoria Stretcher was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after scoring a game-high 22 points and pulling down 12 rebounds to go with two steals, two blocks and an assist.
The Lady Lions (32-6) came back from a double-digit deficit in the second period and again in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to two points, but could never get the lead.
“We fought so hard to come back,” said Saltillo head coach Garry Davison. “I thought we played very well from the second quarter on. They separated from us early on. We fought back – we couldn’t finish it off.”
Whitharral (pronounced like two words: Whit-harral) took control of the game late in the first quarter and early in the second when they hit three 3-pointers by three different players in a span of about two minutes to turn a 4-3 Saltillo lead into a 12-4 Whitharral advantage. The lead eventually reached 12 points (21-9) before the Lady Lions went on a 5-0 run to close out the half.
The run was sparked by a pair of free throws by junior point guard Kendall Bain, a steal from Ariel Tippit and a step-back 3-pointer by Bain with seven seconds remaining in the half to get the Lady Lions to within 21-14. After the Lady Loins put in just one field goal in the third quarter (by Stretcher), Bain’s 3-pointer was crucial for Saltillo’s comeback hopes just before halftime.
“We played hard,” Davison said. “I’m proud of the way the girls refused to quit.”
Despite another 3-pointer by Whitharral’s Kalicia McCoy to open the third quarter to again put the Lady Lions in a 10-point hole, they eventually cut the deficit to two points, 23-25. Stretcher had eight of the team’s nine points in the third quarter, and had a blocked shot and rebound at the 2:13 mark, then scored Saltillo’s final three points of the period on a lay-up off a Bain assist and the ensuing free throw.
But, Stretcher picked up her third foul on Whitharral’s next possession and that put her on the bench for the final two minutes of the quarter. Davison had to substitute her in and out in the fourth quarter after picking up her fourth personal with more than three minutes remaining.
Whitharral (38-4) got the lead back up to double digits in the fourth quarter (40-29) by attacking from the inside. After opening the game by hitting 3-pointers in the first half, the Lady Panthers scored their first eight points of the fourth quarter in the lane.
Davison said the inside buckets came as a result of Saltillo taking chances defensively to get back in the game.
“We had to take some chances in the fourth quarter,” he explained. “We went to a trap, and when you do that, you leave some things open. We talked about their shooting, and we talked about getting out there on their shooters, and the girls thought they were out there. But, Whitharral hit some long shots. That was one of the better shooting teams we’ve played all year.”
Saltillo senior Karli Brewer hit a 3-pointer with 1:11 to play in the game to get the deficit down to nine points, and a conventional 3-point play by Stretcher following a Whitharral turnover got the Lady Lions to within six points (40-34). But, with no timeouts left and just 41 second remaining, Saltillo had to start fouling, and Whitharral made 5-of-6 charity shots to close out the victory.
Whitharral ended the game by hitting 36 percent of their shots (12-of-33) including 5-of-14 from beyond 3-point range. Conversely, Saltillo made 30 percent (13-of-44) from the floor, and just 2-of-9 from 3-point.
Whitharral had three players in double-digit scoring, Taylor Moore with 13 points and seven rebounds, Mia Ochoa and Maeci Scott with 12 points each. Scott and Ochoa each hit a pair of 3-pointers.
Along with Stretcher’s 22 points, Saltillo got seven points and four assists from Bain, four points and eight rebounds from Andrea Tippit, three points from Brewer , and six rebounds and two steals from Ariel Tippit. Haylee Clover added three rebounds and an assist and Chelsea Moore had one rebound.
In a game that was a statistical dead heat, shooting percentage ended up being the deciding factor.
“I thought we got really good looks, but some nights it just doesn’t go in the hole,” Davison said. “Tonight was one of those nights.”
Saltillo outrebounded Whitharral 33-25, including 12-5 on the offensive end. But despite the dozen offensive boards, the Lady Lions managed just five second-chance points.
“I think their length bothered us a little bit. It seems like we were always trying to shoot over them,” Davison said. “Give them credit, they played good defense.”
Whitharral head coach Joshua Jorden viewed the game the same as Davison.
“I thought both of us had good game plans,” Jorden said. “Our shots went down early, and I think that was the difference.”
Tournament Notes -- Karli Brewer fouled out with 13 seconds remaining. She was one of six seniors on the team. The others are Stretcher, the Tippit twins, Moore and Ragan Rutherford. The senior class went 125-16 in their four years at Saltillo, losing in their classification only to the eventual state champions each year. “That’s pretty special,” Davison said. … Stretcher is believed to be the first girl off of a second-place team to win MVP honors in 30 years. “She’s a warrior,” Davison said. … Attendance for the game was 5,839. … The last time Saltillo was in the state tournament was 2001, when this year’s senior class was in kindergarten.
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