By Clay Whittington
Killeen Daily Herald
Reality is sinking in.
With just three games remaining in the regular season, Florence head coach Drake Stanczak can see the writing on the wall. He understands the Lady Buffaloes’ chances of reaching the playoffs are practically nonexistent.
Stanczak knows time is running out, but he could not be happier with his team.
“It can be difficult to keep the players focused,” he said, “especially because a lot these kids are going to go on to play different sports, but to their credit, they are finishing the season out strong. They are still competing and dedicated to what we are doing, so my job is not too hard because they are all self-motivated.
“Our depth has really been tested, but they are doing everything I ask every day, so I have no complaints.”
While Florence is not mathematically eliminated from the postseason yet, the Lady Buffaloes would need to win each of their final three games and get a lot of help from other District 25-3A teams losing to have an opportunity.
A few weeks ago, Florence’s season appeared to be heading in a different direction.
Searching for their first district victory, the Lady Buffaloes (5-18, 0-7) held a fourth-quarter lead on the road at Ingram Moore until senior starters Clarissa Carranco and Courtney Culp suffered injuries they have yet to return from, and the Lady Warriors rallied to win by three points, 36-33.
Then, Comfort narrowly defeated Florence before No. 4 Jarrell swept the season series with a one-sided victory.
Already in a dire situation, Florence fell Friday to visiting Lago Vista 35-27, further cementing the Lady Buffaloes’ fate.
“Our defense played really good,” Stanczak said of the loss to the Lady Vikings. “We created a lot of turnovers, played with a lot of intensity, and we had our chances, but we just didn’t quite have the firepower.”
The loss of backcourt standouts Carranco — a four-year varsity player — and Culp, who are two of the team’s leading scorers, helped sink Florence’s season, but silver linings remain.
In their absences, senior guard Mackenzie Futrell has shouldered much of the burden, playing almost every minute of every game for the short-handed Lady Buffaloes, but others have stepped up, as well. In particular, Madison Hill, who is one of just four nonseniors on Florence’s roster, is thriving, according to Stanczak.
“It has really been a team effort,” he said. “Everybody has helped to fill in and taken on more responsibility, but Madison, who was our first player off the bench, has played a lot more minutes.
“She has a lot of ability, and this increased playing time has really given her some confidence and shown her she can step up and score.”
And Hill’s current contributions could be significant in the future.
“She is going to be expected to be one of our top scorers next season,” Stanczak said.
The Lady Buffaloes still have unfinished business this season, though.
Florence has a bye date tonight before traveling to Blanco on Friday in search of a much-needed district victory, but regardless of the outcome, Stanczak simply wants his players to have fun.
“The main thing I want them to do for the rest of the season is enjoy basketball,” he said. “I want them to compete, have fun and leave with some good memories because we have a lot of seniors.
“If we do that, we will play well.”