Moral Victory: Lady Cats come close, but can’t upset No. 2 Winnsboro

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

Dec. 16, 2007 - Winnsboro coach Buddy Hawkins is a man of few words, so when his team pulled out a 10-point victory over the Sulphur Springs Lady Cats on Friday, he spoke briefly with his former player and assistant coach, Tina Carrillo.

"He just said, 'Good game, and put us on the calendar for next year,' " Carrillo related.

In Buddy-speak, that means the Lady Cats played well enough to earn a re-match.

Sulphur Springs wasn't able to pull off the upset Friday night, but head coach Carrillo was just as happy with her team's performance.

The Lady Cats battled the Winnsboro Lady Raiders, the No. 2 team in Class 2A and state runner-up last year, before losing 53-43 at Wildcat Gym.

Carrillo was matched up against her former coach and mentor and her team responded with one of its best games of the season against the premiere girls basketball program in East Texas. The Lady Cats turned the ball over just 16 times against Winnsboro's pressure defense and trailed by only four points with 2:30 to play in the game before Winnsboro closed the game out by hitting 6-of-7 free throws.

"I felt like we won tonight," said Carrillo. "I'm just as happy as if we had won the game. To me, it's not about our record, but it's about our performance. I couldn't be prouder of the team."

SSHS sophomore Stefanie Pruitt led the team in scoring with 15 points, including three 3-pointers, junior point guard Mackenzie Cross added 12 points, four assists and three steals while being the primary ball-handler against Winnsboro's press, and senior forward Stephanie Conley controlled the inside by grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds to go with six points.

"Stephanie Conley had an outstanding game. She was in every play," Carrillo said. "I thought Mackenzie handled the pressure extremely well. She was our point guard tonight, she was our go-to girl handling the ball."

Conley's presence and rebounding ability helped control Winnsboro's 6-2 post Opal Taskila, who was held to three points though she did grab nine rebounds and blocked four shots.

Sulphur Springs also limited Winnsboro's best 3-point threat Moriah Gerdes to just two from long range and six points total. Point guard Brittany Carter led the Lady Raiders with 17 points and four steals, while senior Sara Senn had a double-double with 13 points, 10 boards.

Sulphur Springs actually took a 7-2 lead in the opening two minutes of the game behind Conley and senior Jessica Savage, a former Winnsboro player. Conley had a pair of buckets in the opening quarter, both off assists from Savage, sandwiched around a Savage 3-pointer.

But, Winnsboro came back to take a 21-16 lead at the end of the first quarter as Carter scored the Lady Raiders' final seven points of the period. Carter's on-ball defense was responsible for helping the Lady Raiders convert the 16 SSHS turnovers into 21 points.

Winnsboro's lead eventually reached 11 points with one minute to play in the half when Gerdes knocked down a 3-pointer and Macy Morton swished an 18-footer. But, the Lady Cats cut the deficit to seven points (29-22) by halftime on a pair of free throws by Starkeisha Wright and a 17-foot jump shot by Pruitt off a penetrate-and-kick assist from Cross.

"Stefanie Pruitt had an outstanding game. I know she's capable of having these kinds of nights," Carrillo said. "We did a good job of driving and kicking out to our shooters."

The Lady Cats cut Winnsboro's lead to five points in the third quarter as Pruitt buried a pair of 3-pointers and Cross hit a pull-up jumper in the lane on their final possession of the period.

The Lady Cats cut the lead even further when Pruitt buried a short baseline jumper off an assist from Ashanti Ivery on Sulphur Springs' first possession of the fourth quarter. The team traded baskets for the next several minutes until Winnsboro went on a 6-2 run to push the lead back up to seven points. That ended when SSHS' Stevie Moore hit a 3-pointer from the left wing with 2:48 to play to cut the deficit to 45-41.

Winnsboro's Senn and Ashley Watkins pushed the lead back up to 49-41 until Cross hit a jumper across the lane to trim the lead to six points. But, the Lady Cats couldn't get any closer as Taskila blocked a shot in the lane with 43 seconds left and Carter made four free throws in the final half-minute.

That decided the outcome, but a game as close as that one wasn't what many people expected.

"They did everything I asked. As a coach, all I can ask is that they run what we do in practice," Carrillo said. "I felt like we were in the game until the end.

"I think Buddy was probably proud things looked the way they did tonight for me. There's a mutual respect there. It felt good to be able to stay with him because he's a basketball legend."

Junior Varsity

Winnsboro 44, SSHS 24

Sulphur Springs has lost four games this year (13-4), and they have all been to Winnsboro, though this was the largest margin of defeat as Winnsboro expanded its three-point halftime lead.

JaMonica Hall led SSHS with eight points and four steals, while Melanie Hudson added eight points. Kayla Phillips chipped in four points and three rebounds, while Alyssa Burney had two points, eight rebounds and two steals.

Linsey Fouse had two points and an assist, Jamie Askins contributed two steals and two assists, and Kayle Askins had two assists.

Freshmen

Winnsboro 51, SSHS 12

The game was close for the first quarter, but Winnsboro was just too good as they limited the Lady Cats just four points in the first half.

Frankeisha Hawkins had four points and eight rebounds, Kyrie Ivery scored two points and have five rebounds. Also scoring two points were Tyesha Thomas, Caitlyn Nix (five rebounds) and Cydnie Finnie. Bradyn Burney had seven rebounds and Megan Massey added two steals.

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