|Winnsboro heading back to Austin|
|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
March 5, 2004 -- COMMERCE -- Winnsboro has been almost synonymous with the state basketball tournament over the last 15 years, but this edition of the Lady Raiders will be experiencing it for the first time.
With the one remaining link to their last state appearance, senior Katie Cook, out with a knee injury suffered in the regional semifinal on Friday, the second-ranked Winnsboro Lady Raiders punched their ticket to Austin Saturday night with an emotional 38-34 win over No. 4 Canton in the Class 3A, Region II championship at Texas A&M-Commerce.
Cook, the team's leading scorer and rebounder for the last three seasons, was a freshman on Winnsboro's last state championship team in 2001. The Lady Raiders (33-3) managed a return trip this season, though it was never easy on Saturday.
"We had to give it 110 percent instead of 100 percent with Katie out," said senior Lindsay Cain, who came up with seven rebounds and made two key free throws with 1:51 to play. "We had to rebound because she's an excellent rebounder. We just all worked as a team, and and as a team we were able to win."
The Lady Raiders did it by playing exceptional defense -- holding Canton to just 17 percent shooting from the floor (8-of-46) and not allowing a field goal for a span that lasted almost 16 minutes, the equivalent of two quarters.
They also received a solid 3-point shooting performance from junior twin sisters Whitney and Kristin Huffman, who combined to go 6-for-11 from beyond the arc and scored 24 points.
It was Kristin's 30-foot shot at the first quarter buzzer that gave the Lady Raiders a lead at 16-13 they would hold onto for the remainder of the game.
"That was a big shot," Whitney said of her sister's performance. "She had about 10 points in a row. She played awesome.
"This feels awesome. We've been waiting on this ever since we were little, and we watched them at the state tournament. Now, we get to go step on the floor and play. It feels awesome -- the best feeling in the world."
This is the eighth time since their first trip in 1990 that Winnsboro coach Buddy Hawkins has taken a team to state, winning it three consecutive years from 1999-2001.
Despite holding as much as an eight-point lead in the third quarter Saturday, the Lady Raiders had to hold off the inevitable fourth-quarter run from the Eaglettes (30-5), who received a double-double from Kim Beverly with 13 rebounds and 12 points.
Cain gave Winnsboro a37-31 lead with 1:51 to play, but the Eaglettes cut the deficit to three points, 37-34, on Beverly's putback with 48 seconds left, then got the ball back on a Winnsboro turnover 18 seconds later with a chance to tie the game. But, Canton was called for a traveling violation with 19 seconds left and then had to foul.
Raegan Robinson, who opened the Lady Raiders' scoring with a first-quarter trey, hit the front end of the one-and-one with 14 ticks remaining. A final shot by Canton was no good, and even though Bailey Eiland went to the free throw line with .7 of a second remaining, the game was essentially over.
"I was thinking my same thing," Robinson said of the free throw routine. "We all have our deal. One dribble two dribbles, three dribbles, deep breath, shot -- I thought about that."
Winnsboro trailed only once in the game, at 1-0 in the first period. After Robinson hit a trey 60 seconds into the game, the Lady Raiders led the rest of the game except for a one-minute span in the first period when Canton's Bailey Eiland made a nice reverse lay-up to tie the game at 13-13.
The Lady Raiders' biggest first-half lead, 22-15, came with four minutes to go in the second period when Kadie Tabor found Whitney Huffman for a open 3-pointer. After Canton cut the lead back to five, Winnsboro's Jenny Woodle dropped in an eight-foot jumper, but Canton's Beverly hit four straight free throws to make the halftime score, 24-21.
But, Canton was in the midst of a 15-minute, 50-second span without a field goal. During that time, Huffman opened the third quarter scoring with a 3-pointer of an assist from freshman Megan Morton, who had a game-high four assists, and Allison Nelson knocked down a pair of free throws for a 29-21 lead, the largest advantage of the game.
Whitney Huffman finished the game with 13 points and Kristin added 11. Nelson had a team-high eight rebounds to go with six points, while Robinson had four points and four boards.
The Lady Raiders will take on Liberty Hill (31-3), the Region IV champion, at 2 p.m. Thursday in the Frank Erwin center on the University of Texas campus. In the other Class 3A semifinal, Canyon (31-2) takes on Groesbeck (30-6) at 3:30 p.m. Winners play in the state championship game at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.