By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
LAMPASAS - The Lady Badgers were playing for their playoff lives.
But Burnet was playing for so much more.
With senior Shannon Dyer in lying in a hospital bed in Cedar Park, the Lady Bulldogs held off several late runs by Lampasas and clinched a District 25-3A playoff spot with a 51-46 victory Tuesday at Badger Gym.
"She's our heart and soul," Burnet coach Mike Cavender said. "She has been battling some medical issues all year long and she's currently in the hospital dealing with those issues … She's just real heavy on our hearts, because we all love that kid and we're all playing for her."
Needing a win Tuesday to grab some semblance of control in their hope for locking up a playoff spot, Lampasas twice pulled to within a single basket over the final five minutes of the game – including at 48-46 with 22.85 seconds remaining on a tough layup from freshman Blake Webb.
But after shooting just 4-of-13 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, and turning the ball over on its final two possessions, the Lady Badgers (11-17, 3-5) were beside themselves afterwards.
"I walked in (to the locker room) and there were a lot of tears," Lampasas coach Jenny Bowden said, "because they wanted it, but I kept telling them, 'We're not out of it, we've got to keep thinking positive' but a lot of tears."
Now Lampasas' best shot to end an 11-year playoff drought is for 25-3A rival Salado - which now sits comfortably in third with two games remaining – to lose to the two teams ahead of it in the standings: Liberty Hill and Burnet. That would force the Lady Badgers and Lady Eagles into a play-in game for the final 25-3A playoff spot.
"We really talked about this being a must-win for us, and in a way it was," Bowden said. "We just have to pray really hard that Salado loses out."
A first-team all-district player last season, Dyer was admitted to the Cedar Park Regional Medical Center last Thursday complaining of multiple bouts of sickness. It was discovered she had a disease that was attacking her internal organs, most notably her liver.
In a show of support, the entire Lady Bulldogs team - players and coaches - were wearing green-painted keys inscribed with Dyer's No. 11 and adorned a chair along Burnet's bench with Dyer's jersey.
"It's kind of galvanized us, even with her not being on the floor she's brought us closer together to where we play better," Cavender said. "We didn't play real well tonight, and I feel real fortunate to sneak out of here with a win."
While Cavender credited the Lady Badgers defense for causing his girls fits, it was a changeup on offense that spurred Lampasas to make a game of it down the stretch.
Rushing things early as a reaction to Burnet's heavy press defense, the Lady Badgers slowed things down at halftime and managed to pull within 38-37 on a long 3-pointer from senior Megan Mason with 5½ minutes left in the third. Burnet had led 26-16 at halftime.
"I think they were so nervous yet excited about the game that it started like, 'Oh, we've got to run with them,'" Bowden said. "But we did better there once we got the nervousness out."
But led by junior Bryanika Grady and senior Leah Cotton, who scored 21 and 14 points, respectively, the Lady Bulldogs opened it back up with an 8-1 run over the next three minutes.
Lampasas wouldn't go without a fight, though, as Juls Crook banked a 3-pointer off the backboard to spark an 8-2 run to pull within 48-46 on Webb's hard bucket.
But senior post Hailey Morrison missed a putback after rebounding Webb's missed and-one opportunity and the Lady Badgers fell apart in the final 30 seconds, stepping out of bounds and passing the ball away on their final two possessions.
"That's what killed us, we could have won the game with those free throws," Bowden said. "Free throws did kill us tonight, free throws and turnovers."