Early Bird Gets A Seat: Large crowd at Wildcat Gym likely when Winnsboro girls come to town Friday

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Dec. 13, 2007 - Sulphur Springs fans who are going to the Lady Cats' basketball game on Friday need to get to the gym early. Winnsboro is coming to town.

Fans of the Winnsboro Lady Raiders, ranked No. 2 in Class 2A, routinely outnumber the opposition's fans, even on the road. The red-clad wave should be especially strong in Sulphur Springs, not only because of the proximity but also because Winnsboro graduate Tina Carrillo is head coach at SSHS.

Carrillo, who played for Winnsboro head coach Buddy Hawkins in the early '90s and coached under him during the latter part of the decade, knows what to expect from the Lady Raiders.

"Winnsboro brings their whole town out to a game. It'll be a good experience for us to play the No. 1 team in 2A," she said. Winnsboro was ranked No. 1 in the previous week's poll. "When you talk about tradition, there's none other like the Winnsboro Lady Raider basketball tradition."

One of Winnsboro's starting players, junior post Opal Taskila, is also from Sulphur Springs. She transferred to Winnsboro before her eighth-grade year.

The Lady Cats played in a Winnsboro fall league, but Winnsboro's varsity did not compete in the games. Sulphur Springs also played in the Hoopfest Tournament in Winnsboro three weeks ago, but did not play the Lady Raiders, who ended up winning the tournament.

So, it's been five years since the two teams have met.

Carrillo was one of the top players on Coach Hawkins' first teams to qualify for the UIL State Tournament in 1991-93, when the Lady Raiders were twice runners-up. She also was an assistant coach for two of Winnsboro's three consecutive state championships from 1999-2001.

"Buddy is like my mentor, he's my high school coach and I coached under him. I have a lot of mixed emotions about it," Carrillo said. "I love the Winnsboro people, and when we went over for the tournament, they were very supportive of the team and very encouraging.

They didn't only come out to the Winnsboro games, they also came to the Sulphur Springs games. It's going to be good to see my old fans when I was in high school here at the game."

Sulphur Springs (8-7) can be encouraged by Cleburne, an unranked 4A team that beat Winnsboro, 60-59, in Brownsboro's East Texas Shootout last weekend. That defeat dropped the Lady Raiders from their No. 1 ranking. Winnsboro also lost to Martins Mill, the No. 1-ranked team in Class A.

Winnsboro is coming off an 88-41 district-opening victory over Como-Pickton on Tuesday. Sulphur Springs, meanwhile, beat another District 16-2A team, Quitman, 53-38, the same night.

The Lady Raiders are the most tradition-laden team in East Texas, having made 10 trips to the state tournament in the last 15 years, have made the playoffs 19 consecutive years including 12 straight seasons as district champions. They've won three state championships, been runner-up five times (including last season) and state semifinalists twice.

This will start a formidable four-game schedule leading up to the District 11-4A opener for the Lady Cats. After Winnsboro, they will face North Mesquite, Longview and Royse City.

"I want to keep it respectable. I want our kids to step up to their level," Carrillo said. "If we come out and really focus on not who they are but who we are, we can stay close ... and you never know."

Notes: The evening games will begin at 4:30 p.m. with the freshmen game. The JV contest is expected to start at 6 p.m., with the varsity to start at about 7:30. The SSHS JV have a 13-3 record. All three losses have been to Winnsboro.

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