COPPERAS COVE — Copperas Cove won, but the celebration was short-lived.
After surviving a relentless second-half surge by visiting Harker Heights in the regular season finale, the Lady Bulldawgs knew their postseason fate was no longer in their hands. Despite earning a 72-70 victory, Copperas Cove needed Temple to defeat Killeen in order to force a playoff play-in game against the Lady Kangaroos.
It did not happen.
Following several tense minutes of waiting, word arrived that Killeen beat the Tem-Cats 41-37, ending the Lady Bulldawgs playoff hopes and plummeting Copperas Cove head coach Eldridge McAdams into a melancholy state.
“It is one of those bittersweet moments,” he said. “First person I am going to look at is me. I’m going to look at myself and see the things that I can do better or could have done better. But when it is all said and done, we worked, and I thank God for the opportunity.”
Going into the night knowing they had to win, the Lady Bulldawgs achieved their goal, but just barely.
Following a strong first quarter, Copperas Cove was outscored over the duration of the game, setting up a wild final few possessions that ended with Harker Heights failing to make a potential game-tying shot in the paint after the Lady Bulldawgs threw away an inbound pass with four seconds remaining.
Although the Lady Knights had already clinched a playoff berth, head coach Shirretha Nelson left the court frustrated with her team’s performance as the loss dropped Harker Heights (18-10, 8-6) into a three-way tie with Temple and Killeen for second place in District 8-5A.
“I wasn’t overly impressed because we made a lot of mistakes that we shouldn’t have made,” she said.
“We weren’t finishing when we were supposed to finish, we had some misreads on defense, and we were not moving and reacting the way we were supposed to. If we would have done that a little more consistently, it could have been a totally different outcome to the game.”
After building an immediate 4-0 lead, the Lady Knights found themselves trailing 16-9 at the end of the first quarter and saw the deficit grow to nine points on multiple occasions before Copperas Cove took a 30-23 advantage into halftime.
Then, senior standout Angela DeLaney caught fire.
The guard made just 3 of 12 shot attempts in the first half, but exploded for 22 points in the second half, giving her a game-high 29 points.
“She started shooting outside shots,” Nelson said. “The whole first half, she was putting the ball on the floor and trying to shoot short jumpers in the lane. Then she opened up her outside game, and that was the difference in her play.”
DeLaney made five 3-pointers in the second half, while teammate Alexus Dukes recorded 12 of her 21 points following intermission, but it was not enough.
Paced by seniors Bryaunea Hall, who finished with a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double, and Brittany Gamble, who contributed 15 points, the Lady Bulldawgs (17-12, 7-7) were able to maintain a relatively comfortable cushion until the game’s final moments.
Copperas Cove senior Angel Mullen’s free throws with 12.5 seconds remaining gave her team a 72-68 lead, but Dukes took the ball the length of the court for a layup before a miscommunication on the ensuing inbound pass led to a turnover, giving Harker Heights one final opportunity.
The last-gasp attempt did not fall, though, and moments later, both teams’ nights were ruined.
“It is just one of those things where it could have gone your way, but it didn’t,” McAdams said.
Contact Clay Whittington at firstname.lastname@example.org