SALADO — They wouldn’t get the redemption they were seeking, but after going blow-for-blow with a former district rival Saturday, the Salado Lady Eagles feel pretty good as they enter their new district slate Tuesday.
“I told the girls, if they play like that the rest of the season, district has a big surprise coming,” first-year Salado coach Diane Konarik said.
Salado turned the ball over four times in the final two minutes while ex-District 25-3A foe Liberty Hill hit 3 of 4 from the free-throw line in the final 33 seconds to close out a 36-29 victory in the championship game of the 11th annual Coach Smith Memorial Tournament.
Yet despite the sour ending, Konarik was happy with the grit her players showed despite a fourth consecutive loss to the aggressive Lady Panthers.
“I saw a lot of heart, a lot of pride. They got after it, they worked,” Konarik said. “They still don’t understand the kind of scramble that I’m wanting (on defense) ... but we’re getting there.”
Liberty Hill, a team known for its full-court press, didn’t hold any punches against their former district rival, attacking from the first whistle.
Forced to beat the press, the Lady Eagles found a way around it with sharp passing and set press breaks, including one that resulted in a Taylor Atwood layup on a cross-court pass from Taryn Kornegay with 2 seconds left in the first quarter to cut the Lady Panthers’ lead to 11-9.
“We have a lot of history together, all of us, so it was like going out back and playing backyard games because we’ve played each other so much,” said junior guard Ashley Adams, who scored seven points to go along with three steals and three assists.
Atwood’s basket sparked Salado (5-9) on a 7-0 run as Liberty Hill didn’t score from the 1:33 mark in the first quarter until a putback by Bailey Bevers with 2:53 left in the second quarter to cut the Lady Eagles’ lead back to 14-13.
But Shelby Whitten nailed the first of her two 3-pointers on the ensuing possession and the Lady Panthers closed out the first half on 10-2 run, five points coming from senior post Maddie Metzger, who finished with 12 points and was named tournament MVP.
Meredith Ward, the Lady Eagles’ lone senior, led the way with 10 points, while junior post Jaylee Sebek continued her attack on the boards, pulling down a team-high 11 rebounds (nine on defense) while Kornegay added five points and four steals. Adams, Ward and Kornegay were all named to the all-tournament team.
Liberty Hill’s press continued to cause Salado fits, turning the ball over 32 times, but every time it looked like the Lady Panthers were about to pull away, the Lady Eagles were right there to keep it close. Following a timeout with 4:42 left in the fourth, the Lady Eagles pulled within 32-28 on the heels of four straight points from Kornegay, who nailed a pair of free throws and then had a layup off a steal on the following possession with 3½ minutes remaining.
But from there, frustrations got the better of Salado, which turned the ball over four times, including on a pair of traveling calls in the final minute to negate scoring opportunities.
“I think honestly it got to our heads, because we wanted it so, so bad that we weren’t focusing on our game, playing Salado ball,” Adams said. “We mainly focused on getting that ball back and trying to run, keep it quick-paced. I think we kind of psyched ourselves out in a way.”