COPPERAS COVE — Aubrianna Garcia had no doubt.
Despite being winless in district and playing on the road, Belton’s starting guard knew things were going to go her way against Copperas Cove.
“I came out here thinking I’m going to do good, the team is going to do good, we’re going to work together, and we did,” the junior said.
With Garcia scoring 13 of her game-high 19 points in the third quarter, the Lady Tigers blew the game open in the second half, cruising to a 52-40 victory against the Lady Bulldawgs.
After going 0-3 to open the District 8-5A schedule, Belton head coach Brenda Gomez believes the win could be exactly what her team needs to turn the program’s recent misfortunes around.
“I know the first (district) win is going to make a big difference in our entire season, because now the kids believe they can do it,” she said. “They’ve been working hard, and the fact that we keep losing with our effort, I think they’ll finally realize, ‘OK, we can do this.’”
The teams went back and forth for a majority of the first half as neither squad was able to establish anything more than a three-point lead.
Angel Mullen’s 3-pointer gave Copperas Cove an early 7-4 advantage, but Belton (3-10, 1-3) responded with four unanswered points before guard Kenya Haynes made a pair of free throws with no time on the clock to give the Lady Bulldawgs a 9-8 advantage entering the second quarter.
Belton sophomore Emily Del Real’s free throw with two minutes remaining in the half gave the Lady Tigers a 22-21 lead, but Copperas Cove post Bryaunea Hall scored six consecutive points.
Garcia had an answer, though, hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to rip away any momentum the Lady Bulldawgs possessed.
Copperas Cove (7-7, 1-3) never recovered.
“The second halves (of district games) have been getting us,” Lady Bulldawgs head coach Eldridge McAdams said. “The third and fourth quarters have been our Achilles heel. ... We’re settling down and playing more lackadaisical in the second half, when we need to keep the intensity going.”
The Lady Bulldawgs held a 33-32 lead midway through the third quarter, but scored just seven points during the duration of the game with their final three points coming on Hall’s desperation 3-pointer with seven seconds remaining in the game, giving her a team-high 11 points to go with nine rebounds.
While Copperas Cove, which was playing without starting guard Mikayla Blount, who was out of town, struggled offensively in the second half, Garcia and her teammates were thriving, especially from deep.
Garcia made 3 of 6 3-point attempts in the third quarter, while teammates Emily Hugo and Kinsey Williams also each made a shot from behind the arc.
“I was feeling good,” Garcia said. “It has been a long time since (I felt like that). I wasn’t nervous or anything like that.”
As a team, Belton was 5 of 8 in the period and 8 of 17 through the first three quarters from behind the 3-point line, giving the Lady Tigers a 44-35 advantage going into the fourth quarter.
Williams complemented Garcia by scoring 11 points, while Hugo finished with 10 points.
“The ball went in the hole,” Gomez said. “It hasn’t gone in the hole yet all season, and now it was finally going in, and that is what made the big difference.”
The Lady Tigers’ strong third quarter proved crucial, because their offense abandoned them in the fourth quarter as they did not score a point until Williams’ 3-pointer with 2:20 remaining put Belton ahead 47-37.
Nevertheless, it was enough to give Copperas Cove a second demoralizing defeat in a row after the Lady Bulldawgs lost by one point, 38-37, at Midway on Tuesday.
“We’ve just got to keep working,” McAdams said. “The pieces are there, we’ve just got to get them together.”