GATESVILLE — As its lone senior, Meredith Ward has been the pulse of the Salado Lady Eagles basketball team all season long.
But with that pulse cut off in a box-and-one defense, the Lady Eagles couldn’t manage to keep its heart rate up long enough to withstand Bruceville-Eddy’s comeback as Salado was outscored 46-24 in the second half of a 73-55 bi-district loss Monday at Gatesville High School.
“She’s just that leader and she sets that presence out there on the court,” said first-year Salado head coach Diane Konarik.“Her presence just sets the tone.”
It certainly did early as Ward paced Salado in the first half, scoring 11 of her team-high 17 to plate a 31-27 halftime lead.
Sparked by their its spitfire guard in senior Whitney Doyen, who led all scorers with 26 points, Bruceville-Eddy built a 6-0 advantage before Salado junior TarynKornegay nailed a 3-pointer with 4:02 left in the first half.
With Bruceville-Eddy nursing an 8-5 lead 2½ minutes later, Ward nailed the first of her three 3-pointers and then followed with a layup on the following possession to put Salado on top for the first time, 10-8. The charge sparked Salado on a 9-1 run over the final 1:23 of the first quarter to lead 14-9 entering the second.
“She’s our senior, she’s our go-to girl, she’s our leader, she was hot and she was hitting and when they did that, it kind of fizzled our bubble,” Konarik said of Bruceville-Eddy’s box-and-one defense.
Bruceville-Eddy junior post Shelby Friudenberg hit a 3 with 1:46 left in the first half to get her team within 25-23, but Ward banked in a 3-pointer and reserve Carmella Perez hit one from deep as well with 37 seconds remaining to maintain a slight advantage, 31-27, at the break.
Momentum had shifted, though, as Bruceville-Eddy (23-9) changed gears defensively in the second half and sought to negate Ward, both offensively and defensively. Ward also hauled in 12 rebounds while Kornegay and Jaylee Sebek added 12 and 10 points, respectively.
“(Ward) was a very good player, so we just tried to put somebody on her and she if we could shut her down,” said Bruceville-Eddy head coach Keith Johnson. “We just tried to make the other players beat us as opposed to her.”
After shooting 4-of-13 in the first half and pulling down eight boards, Ward couldn’t get find any space in the second half, managing just 1-of-5 shooting in the third quarter and being held without a shot attempt in the fourth quarter.
“It was a little frustrating, I mean it is for anyone to be locked down on, but they were trying to get in my head and I was just trying to keep playing, trying to get open, keep doing my thing,” Ward said. “And I tried, but I couldn’t get open every time.”
Salado (16-15) was able to hold serve in the third, answering each Bruceville-Eddy charge with one of its own, including a 3-pointer by Ward that rattled around the rim before dropping to put Salado ahead 38-34 with 4:48 remaining in the frame.
But with Ward effectively negated, Bruceville-Eddy closed out the final 4:10 of the third on a 14-3 run — with all Salado’s points coming on 3-of-8 shooting from the free-throw line — for a 48-41 lead entering the fourth quarter.
“We adjusted for a little there by hitting Jaylee (Sebek) and using her, but then we couldn’t do anything else out of it. Nobody else really wanted to step up and take that spot,” Konarik said.
Free-throw woes continued to plague Salado, which shot a miserable 11-of-28 from the charity stripe despite repeated opportunities as the line as Salado players tried to compensate by charging the lane and drawing fouls.
“When the other team got the momentum, we kind of shut down and (it was like) we thought we had no hope, and really there was,” Ward said. “I guess it kind of got in our heads.”
The fourth quarter didn’t fare much better for Salado, which pulled within 48-44 with 6:28 remaining, but Doyen nailed a 3 on the ensuing possession to spark a 16-3 run over the next three minutes that included five straight points from Doyen to cement a 64-47 advantage with 3:26 left.