Sands defense stonewalls Huckabay to advance to UIL Class 1A state championship
SAN ANTONIO — The Sands Lady Mustangs just needed to settle in.
After making the program's first state tournament appearance in 61 years, their nerves early but went away quickly thanks to a trio of double-digit scorers who helped power Sands to a 56-29 victory over Huckabay in a Class 1A semifinal.
The Lady Mustangs had a pair of uncharacteristic close misses on layup attempts inside the paint and several rushed shots that resulted in bad possessions.
They were struggling to defend the three-point shooting of Huckabay senior forward Tiffany Meador and found themselves trailing 18-15 midway through the second quarter before sophomore center Savannah Barnes headed to the free-throw line.
That's when Lady Mustangs coach Ben Connell called his trio of team leaders Elysa Martinez, Landry Morrow and Lili Porras over to him and delivered them an earful.
"They were being teenagers and they weren't following the game plan," said Connell, whose team improved to 36-3. "I think the nerves kicked in and they started doing their own thing. I pulled them over and just told the team leaders that we needed to re-focus. (Meador) was doing a great job knocking down three's and we had talked about not letting her shoot three's. That's not being very coachable, so we had to get together to start focusing on what we needed to do."
Sands went on to end the first half on an 11-0 run behind two free throws each by Barnes and Martinez, a tough layup by Morrow and a make from beyond arc by junior guard Bianca Plata.
The last basket of the first half for Sands came courtesy of Porras when she jumped in front of and intercepted a Huckabay inbounds pass under their own basket. Porras put up a quick shot inside the paint and beat the buzzer to electrify the Lady Mustang inside of the Alamodome.
"(That play) was a game-changer, honestly," Morrow said. "It brought up the energy. At the beginning of the game, our adrenaline was through the roof so we were throwing up layups and hitting it off the backboard. We just had to remain calm and find ourselves."
From that point on, the Sands defense made it difficult for Huckabay's offense to get a shot off. On several of possessions, they made it impossible for the Lady Indians to even pass half-court. The brown and white outscored the Lady Indians 20-1 in the third quarter.
The Lady Mustangs finished the semifinal with 22 steals and forced Huckabay into 32 total turnovers. Sands scored 37 points off of turnovers and had 22 fast break points as their speed and toughness wore down the Lady Indians and forced them into mistake after mistake.
"They were fast with their feet and fast with their hands," Meador said. "They were aggressive every time we got the ball. I think we got sped up too early and didn't play at our own pace. They're an aggressive team and they just outplayed us today."
Sands and their tough-as-nails defense will now look ahead to their first state championship game appearance in program history after defeating Huckaby (35-7). They are set to take on the Robert Lee Lady Steers (35-2) at 8:30 a.m. Saturday inside the Alamodome.
Robert Lee is making their first state championship game appearance since their win over Cushing in 1978.
"They haven't been here in a long time, either," Connell said. "They look hungry to me and they played a great game. They handled a lot of pressure there. We're going to have to do the same thing. We're gonna have to win the game with our defense and bring the intensity and shut them down."
SANDS 56, HUCKABAY 29
Sands 15 11 20 10 — 56
Huckabay 10 8 1 10 — 29
Sands — Landry Morrow 16; Lili Porras 16; Bianca Plata 10; Elysa Martinez 7; Savannah Barnes 2; Cyanne Compton 2; Yesenia Reyna 2; Lakyn Sandlin 1
Huckabay — Tiffany Meador 20; Chayni Chamberlain 4; Gracie McDowell 3; Seren Fowler 2