|Lady Raiders in usual place this time of year - playoffs|
|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
Feb. 20, 2004 -- FARMERSVILLE -- Some things you can count on -- death, taxes, the sun rising in east. And in February, you can rely on the Winnsboro Lady Raiders being in the playoffs.
The Lady Raiders, ranked No. 2 in Class 3A, got in the playoff mood Monday afternoon with a 77-67 warm-up win over the top-ranked 2A team, Rio Vista.
Winnsboro will open the playoffs at the end of this week against the winner of the Van Alstyne-Princeton bi-district game. It will be the 16th consecutive year that coach Buddy Hawkins has guided the Lady Raiders into the postseason, including nine straight district championships.
Like seven other teams before them, this edition of the Lady Raiders (31-3) has a legitimate chance to go back to Austin for the UIL state tournament the first weekend in March.
Though they don't have the high-profile individual like Stacy Stephens or Sara Hinkley, who led them to three straight state championships from 1999-2001, the 2004 Lady Raiders have a three-time All-State player in Katie Cook and a whole gang of 3-point shooters and full-court defenders who keep coming at the opposition in waves.
They did it Tuesday, turning a four-point halftime deficit into a double-digit win by wearing down a talented but thin Rio Vista squad.
Winnsboro's Whitney Huffman, who teams with her twin sister, Kristin, in the starting backcourt, unleashed a lethal shooting display in the second half. She scored 24 points in the final two quarters, including eight straight points midway through the fourth quarter that lifted Winnsboro from a 59-58 deficit to a 66-59 advantage.
Whitney finished with a game-high 29 points while her sister led the team with six assists.
"We got off to a little bit of a slow start, but so did they. So, we just kept with them, and when we got down we just hit a few threes and made some clutch shots and free throws," Huffman said matter-of-factly.
"I'm ready to start the playoffs. I think we all are. We need to win a few games and hopefully make it to Austin."
If they get back, it will be the second trip for Cook, who was a freshman on the 2001 state championship team. The senior has averaged double-figure points and rebounds all three years since then -- the only other person to do that in Winnsboro was Stephens -- and was recently nominated as a McDonald's High School All-American.
Against Rio Vista, Cook had nine points and a game-high 11 boards, leading Winnsboro to a whopping 51-24 rebounding advantage. Classmate Lindsay Cain, a three-year letterman, grabbed 10 rebounds (eight on the offensive end). They each came up with a game-high six steals and combined for eight assists.
"We just put our butt in them," said Cain. "Even if they're taller than you, you've just to get in there with them and show your heart. We wore them out. They only had five or six players they played."
The Lady Eagles showed why they are the No. 1 team in 2A -- talent. Sophomore play-making guard Katy Cobb finished with 17 points, four steals and six assists and led the team in a fourth-quarter 11-0 run that game them a brief one-point lead. Junior 6-1 guard Jamie Dreiling scored 27 points, and junior 6-1 post Malorie Fowler had 11 points and eight rebounds, but only two boards in the second half.
Part of that was because the Winnsboro team subs in players every two minutes, keeping fresh bodies in the game to work the full-court press and up-tempo pace.
"They have a lot of players on that team, but they don't all play like every one on our team," said Cook. "The idea was to wear them down. That's what we try to do every game."
That, and shoot threes. The Lady Raiders hit 8-of-29 (Huffman made 5-of-10), with treys from Allison Nelson, Raegan Robinson and freshman Megan Morton, who added six rebounds and four assists. Overall, they took 86 shots (making 30).
The Lady Raiders also got solid games in the post from Nelson (14 points, six rebounds) and sophomore Jenny Woodle (12 points, six boards).
"I'd bet we didn't shoot a real high percentage because they were so many possessions, but we shot really well in spurts, especially in the fourth quarter," said Coach Hawkins, who was pleased with his team's performance.
So were the girls.
"I hate the close games, but it's good to play a hard team," said Cain. "I'm ready for the playoffs. I don't want it to go by too fast because this is my last year."
Cook added, "We try not to talk about going to state. We try to focus on the next game, the next day, and take what comes at us next. But, we're ready for the playoffs. It seems like a long year until you get to the end of it, then it's over."