BREMOND — There was a certain energy exhibited by Salado on defense Tuesday night, a persistent one that characterized the Lady Eagles this season.
Take for instance Taylor Lowrance’s three blocks, Lexie Lima’s steal at half-court and subsequent 3-pointer, Kerrigan Hearne stripping the ball from her knees to start a break and an overall persistence during the Class 4A bi-district playoff game against Navasota.
“Personally, I just wanted to do my best because if this was going to be my last game, I had to try to give everything. I had and give it my all,” the senior Lowrance said.
But something else followed Salado into its tussle with the sixth-ranked Lady Rattlers, and struggles on offense eventually caught up with the Lady Eagles in a 59-29 loss to up-tempo Navasota, which controlled the offensive boards and eventually heated up from the floor after a so-so shooting performance in the first half.
The Lady Rattlers (34-3), who won District 20-5A and haven’t lost since Dec. 2, advanced to play Fairfield in the area round. Salado, the fourth seed out of ultra-competitive 19-4A that features the No. 3-ranked team in the state, Liberty Hill, finished the season 14-15.
“It was very, very frustrating,” said Salado coach Diane Konarik, whose Lady Eagles have qualified for the playoffs in four of her five seasons in charge. “I told them (at halftime) that we were doing a great job defensively. Defense has been our motto from Day 1. We just couldn’t get by them to get to the rim. It’s been a challenge for us all year long.
“We’ve got to keep fighting. And I think I have it. I have a lot of heart, a lot of pride and a lot of fight in my girls.”
Salado’s other two seniors, Sarah Kelarek and Hearne combined for 14 points, with 10 of those belonging to Kelarek. Lima added five points, while Lowrance and Kayla Manning each had four.
However, the scoring was too scattered against the Lady Rattlers.
“We were trying to run our plays but they had a great defense and were great all around,” Kelarek said.
A five-minute drought to open the game was compounded by a second quarter during which the Lady Eagles had just one field goal. That came with 10 seconds before halftime, and despite having its issues around the basket, partly because of Salado’s bothersome defense, Navasota led 23-10.
“We missed eight shots in the paint in the first half. They came at us and we looked a little rusty. But I was pleased with our effort and pressure down the stretch,” said Navasota coach Tommy Gates, who as the leader of Whitney coached against Konarik when she was a player at West. “I told our kids, ‘That’s a good team. That’s a very, very well-coached team. Probably one of the best ones we’ve faced.’ They would’ve been second in our district. That’s how good they are.”
The Lady Rattlers started to show just how good they could be when they dictated the pace and shots start to fall in the third quarter. Those trends continued into the fourth when Salado began to run out of gas and Navasota’s advantage ballooned to as much as 32.
Ke’aundra Eddings dropped a game-high 19 points for Navasota. Amya Thomas contributed 11, Savannah Stringfellow had nine, via three 3-pointers, and Kaliah Bookman chipped in seven.
“That type of pace, we knew it was going to be tough, we knew it was going to be fast. They are number six for a reason. They are a good team,” Konarik said. “I thought we had a better inside game, but we couldn’t get our inside game going.”
Thus, Salado is going home and Navasota is moving on. But there’s always a silver lining.
“I think we had a great season and I just love my team,” Hearne said. “I think everybody worked their hardest.”