COPPERAS COVE — It was only a one-point lead, but it felt insurmountable.
In the opening minutes of Gatesville’s Class 4A area-round game against Burnet, the No. 18 Hornets struggled to live up to their lofty state ranking.
The Bulldogs scored the contest’s first six points en route to a 10-3 advantage as Gatesville missed nine of 11 field-goal attempts, but moments before the buzzer sounded, the slow start no longer mattered.
After rallying to create a one-possession game, Hornets guard Rebekah Nolte found freshman Alayna Washington for a successful and-1 play with 0.2 seconds remaining in the first quarter, giving Gatesville an 11-10 lead.
Although it was not much of a cushion, Washington knew it was all the Hornets needed.
“That really was a huge confidence-builder,” the small forward said. “Going into the second quarter with a lead made us come out faster, and we definitely had all the momentum.”
She was right.
Washington’s play was part of a 16-0 run spanning into the second quarter as Gatesville never trailed again, winning 51-33 to give the program’s its deepest postseason run since reaching the regional finals in 1996.
Following the milestone victory, Hornets head coach Chris Carroll admitted Washington’s play provided more than just three points.
“Momentum is a funny thing,” he said. “You never know what is going to give it or take it, and I felt like that was a huge play.
“It’s not that I felt like we would have panicked, but to end that quarter up, instead of down, definitely made a difference.”
Gatesville’s lead swelled to 19-10 before Burnet junior Marissa Escamilla’s putback with 3 minutes, 5 seconds remaining in the half ended a scoring drought lasting more than a quarter.
The Hornets saw their 24-14 halftime advantage shrink to four points, 28-24, in the third quarter, but once again, they had an answer.
Nolte connected on her third 3-pointer and Allaira Jones made a pair of free throws to end the third quarter before Gatesville (32-3) scored six consecutive points to open the final period.
“We’ve all grown over the season,” Jones said, “and we’ve all matured and come together as a team.
“We don’t let stuff get into our heads.”
In the fourth quarter, Burnet (23-12) resorted to fouling in hopes of mounting a comeback, but it did not work. The Hornets hit 12 of 20 free throws in the period to secure the victory.
Nolte finished with 17 points and three assists, tying Escamilla for game-high scoring honors. Jones complemented the outing with 11 points for Gatesville, while Washington contributed eight points on 3-of- 3 shooting to go with four rebounds and two assists.
Now, the Hornets prepare for a third-round encounter with No. 8 Madisonville after the Lady Mustangs defeated Taylor 52-48. The regional quarterfinal game will be played at Groesbeck on Tuesday at 6 p.m.
“They are extremely talented,” Carroll said, “and they’ve been this far multiple times. It’s old hat for them, where it is new for us, and we’ll have to be ready.
While Gatesville still has a lot left it wants to achieve, Jones wants to enjoy all the team has accomplished.
“We are all pretty excited,” she said, “and I think it is just starting to set in that we are a good team.
“But now we’ve realized it, and we want to just keep this rolling.”