SALADO — Meredith Ward remembers the raw emotions after last year’s loss to Liberty Hill — all three of them.
The worst, of course, came in the Class 3A regional quarterfinals last season when the Lady Panthers knocked off upstart Salado 54-35, repaying the favor after the Lady Eagles upset Liberty Hill in the same game a year before.
“All I can say is ‘redemption,’” Ward said.
The now-2A Lady Eagles will get their shot with a tournament trophy on the line when the two former District 25-3A rivals face off in the girls championship game of the 11th annual Coach Smith Memorial Tournament today at 3:30 p.m.
“It makes me mad because I hate losing, especially to Liberty Hill; because it was a challenge last year and the year before (in district) and I want it bad, I want it bad,” Ward said.
And it’s all thanks to Ward’s senior leadership and her consistency around the basket, shooting 9-of-17 from the floor in a 50-43 win over Austin St. Michael's on Friday as Salado won its pool to advance to the title game.
As the team’s only senior, Ward registered a rare double-double with a game-high 23 points and 11 rebounds, mostly from a relentless focus inside the lane, where she shot 6-of-12 to go along with a 3 of 5 showing from beyond the 3-point line.
But it was slow-going early as Salado missed its first eight shot attempts before a Ward 3-pointer with 3:57 left in the first quarter.
“I kept telling them to shoot,” Salado coach Diane Konarik said. “I told the girls, ‘It’s going to fall. We’re getting open shots, they gotta fall sometimes.’”
They did, especially in the second quarter when the Lady Eagles (5-8) scored the quarter’s first 13 straight points, 10 of the first 11 coming courtesy of Ward, who’s putback off her own miss put Salado ahead 20-13 with 3:07 still left in the half.
“They just kept working and going at it, and I think we really stepped up on defense,” Konarik said.
Helping Ward on the boards was junior post Jaylee Sebek, who scored nine points and 10 rebounds, including three in the game’s final two minutes as Salado (5-8) held off a late surge by St. Michaels.
Salado boys get back on track with Friday split — After starting the season with eight straight victories, the last three games have left a sour taste in the mouths of the Eagles.
But thanks to 23 points and 12 rebounds from 6-foot-3 senior Austin Adams, and an additional 21 points from Brandon Womac, the Eagles (9-3) got back on the winning track with a 70-39 blowout of 1A Snook.
That came just hours after Salado suffered a tough-to-swallow 48-46 loss to Georgetown East View earlier in the day that saw the Eagles come out of halftime sluggish despite a 20-13 lead having shut out the Patriots in the second quarter.
“After winning eight times in a row, losing a three in a row was pretty bad, so we were pretty motivated to come in and get a win,” Adams said. “I guess we were just pumped.”
Adams’ strong game against Snook started early as the elder post took advantage of an obvious height advantage and scored seven of Salado’s first nine points and sparked the Eagles to a 20-8 first quarter effort.
After struggling with turnovers against pressure teams in their loses, Salado found little problem scoring and moving the ball up the court against the zone-heavy Snook, which had just one player standing above 6-foot.
“We had a lot of mismatches so that helped a lot,” Salado coach Kenny Mann said.
The Eagles will have a rematch against Snook today at 8 a.m. after deciding not to play Taylor for the fourth time in the last two weeks and District 22-2A rival Little River-Academy, both of whom were options to play in the fifth-place consolation game.