Yantis boys eliminated from playoffs, Saltillo girls take number two seed in playoffs
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Feb. 12, 2005 - HARTS BLUFF - Avinger turned Harts Bluff into Heartbreak Hill for a pair of Hopkins County teams Friday night.

The Yantis boys were eliminated from the basketball playoffs by Avinger in a 50-45 loss, while the Saltillo girls lost the outright district championship to Avinger, 34-26, at the Harts Bluff ISD gym.

Saltillo will still advance to the playoffs as the second seed out of District 20-A, Div. II, and will face Ector, the District 19-A, Div. II champion, at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Prairiland.

Avinger 50, Yantis 45

Playing for the final playoff spot out of 20-A after both teams finished 6-4 in district play, Avinger relied on Tyris Dowell, and he didn't disappoint.

The 6-1 junior scored 33 points and added 12 rebounds and three steals. Eleven of his points came in the fourth quarter when the Indians were scrambling to stay ahead of Yantis, who cut the lead to one point three different times.

Dowell, who is being courted by Texas Tech, scored twice as many points as the rest of the Indians combined despite Yantis employing a defense that keyed on him.

"Tyris is the key. He's just almost impossible to stop," said Yantis head coach Harold Gilbreath, whose team finished the season at 20-9. "I thought we really did about as good of a job as we could."

The Owls countered Dowell's offense with three players in double figures, led by senior Colby Ogle with 17 points and five rebounds, senior Corey Elliott with 13 points and 12 boards, and senior Jarrett Russell, who scored 11 points and came up with seven steals.

Eight of Elliott's points came in the fourth quarter, including a lay-up off a backdoor pass from Jeremy Hurley that cut the Avinger lead to 37-36 on their first possession of the final period, and a putback with nine seconds remaining that got the Owls to within 48-45.

But, Dowell came up with the inbound pass in the final seconds and drove in for a lay-up for the final margin.

Gilbreath lamented the Owls' missed opportunities, pointing to a 12-for-24 night at the free throw line and 24 turnovers.

"We missed too many free throws, and we had a lot of situations where we had the ball game close and had three, four or five trips down the court to take the lead, but our shot selection and decision-making wasn't what it's supposed to be," Gilbreath explained. "But, this is a tough situation to put 16- and 17-year-old kids in, and I couldn't be prouder of my kids in any form or fashion."

The Owls had to fight through a 10-point deficit in the first quarter at 18-8, by going on an 8-1 run, spurred by seven points from Ogle including the Owls' only 3-pointer of the game, to cut the lead to 19-16 by end of the initial period.

Yantis took its only lead of the game at 20-19 when Russell came up with a steal and layup midway through the second period. Though they stayed close to the Indians in the final two quarters, they could never completely close the gap.

It was the final game for 10 Yantis seniors, though Gilbreath said the cupboard won't be bare next year.

"We've gone from winning eight games a year to winning 20. I've only got one starter coming back, but we've got a JV that's lost just five games in two years (36-5)," he explained. "We'll be all right next year. We're here to stay.

"It's hard for those seniors. I hate it worse for them than anybody else. They'll have a lot of good memories for this season, and that's good for Yantis basketball."

Avinger 34, Saltillo 26

The good news for Saltillo (25-5) is that despite the loss, the Lady Lions will play again.

"I told them in the dressing room that if you're going to lay a stinker, this is the right time to do it because you get to play again," said Saltillo head coach Garry Davison. "But, from here on out, if you get beat, you go to the house."

Avinger senior Shay Dowell scored 13 points to pace the Lady Indians, while Saltillo senior Cassie Hailey led her team with nine points, eight rebounds and four steals, and freshman Winter Stevens added seven points, six boards and three steals.

The Lady Lions had a difficult time generating offense, especially in the second half when they scored just eight points. They held Avinger to just 39 percent shooting from the field, but hit just 29 percent themselves, including 0-for-5 from 3-point land.

"I thought Avinger played real tough defense the way they were letting them play, bodying us and bumping us," Davison said. "It worked out for them, and Avinger played really well tonight."

Saltillo took a 4-2 lead on a cutting lay-up from Jenny Prather and an end-to-end bucket from Stevens, but Avinger closed out the first quarter on a 12-2 run spurred by eight points from Dowell. The only Saltillo bucket in that run came on a putback from senior Kassie Tully.

The Lady Lions cut the lead to 21-18 by halftime, thanks to four points from sophomore Chloe Roberts, an Avinger transfer who hit a baseline floater to cut the lead to three points, and a pair of buckets from Hailey, including a putback at the buzzer.

But, the Lady Lions were never able to cut the lead under three points in the second half.

"I was really disappointed because I thought they came out and were real physical and we didn't respond to that," Davison said. "I thought we kind of backed away from it, and that's what happens."

Part of the problem, he said, may have been that this was the first playoff experience for all his players except for Tully who was a varsity freshman when the Lady Lions last went to the postseason.

"Really we went in with no experience, so I guess I should have expected some of that," Davison explained. "I think this will help us. You hate to lose a game, but I think maybe we'll learn from this and play well on Tuesday."

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