DENTON - Thursday’s Class 6A bi-district basketball game would have been special for Hebron girls head coach Lisa Branch regardless of the outcome.
A one-point victory over state-ranked Denton Guyer, of course, made it that much sweeter.
The Lady Hawks made critical free throws down the stretch of the fourth quarter and played perfect defense on Guyer’s Evie Goetz on the final shot of the game to survive, 54-53, and advance to the area round of the playoffs.
Hebron will play the winner of Arlington Martin and Richardson Pearce next week.
Branch missed this exact game, the 2020 bi-district round against Guyer, won 61-36 by the Lady Wildcats, last year when she fell ill with the flu. She wanted this same matchup one year later, she said.
“I wanted so badly to be there last year, and they beat us pretty bad,” Branch said. “But last year doesn’t matter, and that’s what I told the girls - this year is a new year. We’re a new team, they’re a new team, and we wanted this game. We wanted it bad.”
Balanced scoring led the way for Hebron, which saw scoresheet contributions from nine different players. Freshman Jordan Thomas led the way with 14 points in her postseason debut, while senior Demauria Miles chipped in 11 as the team’s only other double-digit scorer. For the Lady Wildcats, Bella Earle led with 16 points. Goetz scored 15.
The Lady Hawks had a five-point lead heading into the fourth quarter before a case of playoff nerves set in.
In the final frame, Hebron turned the ball over seven times - including twice under its own basket, one leading to a three-point play by Earle and another with 4.7 seconds left that could have spelled doom for the Lady Hawks.
A closely guarded Miles broke towards the baseline, trying to get open and receive the inbound pass with five seconds remaining and Hebron leading by one. But her momentum carried her away from the inbound pass, and the ball glanced off her outstretched hand and out of bounds. Suddenly, Guyer had the ball down one point, under Hebron’s basket, and a chance to win the game.
But the Lady Hawks smothered Goetz, a TCU signee, who was attempting to break towards the basket and catch an alley-oop pass that Guyer had tried earlier in the game. Unable to create any separation, she faded to the corner, where the ball glanced off her hands and she was forced into a wild shot that missed the basket as time expired.
Hebron had a 49-44 lead with under two minutes remaining, but turnovers, free throws - the Lady Hawks missed three in the final minute - and a quick Guyer layup by Earle got the Lady Wildcats to within two with 14 seconds left. Miles was fouled, but she missed one of her two free throws. That’s when Guyer’s Mariah Watson sprinted down and made an uncontested layup to draw within one at 54-53.
Even with the turnovers, Guyer’s mounting pressure and the large, pro-Guyer crowd making noise, Branch said her team was never nervous.
“It’s because I wasn’t nervous,” she said. “I kept telling them, make your free throws, be strong with the ball, and we’ll win the game.”
A major change from the first half to the second, which no doubt aided in the Lady Hawks’ victory, was its improvement on the defensive glass. In the first half, Guyer grabbed 11 offensive rebounds; they didn’t reach half of that in the second half.
“You can’t win if you give up that many rebounds, so we knew what to focus on the second half,” Branch said. “I’m just so proud of the girls, because they fought and fought and they deserved this win.”
In the victory, freshman Paris Bradley added nine points, senior Jasmyn Loudermill chipped in eight and senior Camille Thomas scored six.