By Angel Verdejo
Killeen Daily Herald
COPPERAS COVE - Sarai Rodriguez just knew Ocleta Young's buzzer-beating 3-pointer was going in.
Young's shot as time ran out sent the Ellison crowd into a frenzy and the game into overtime. But the confidence Rodriguez had in that buzzer-beater she later displayed at the free-throw line time after time.
The sophomore made 8-of-8 free throws in the extra period and scored a game-high 20 points to lift Copperas Cove over the Lady Eagles 60-53 on Tuesday.
"I always picture myself as someone who has to have the ball, so every time I had the ball, I tried to make something happen," said Rodriguez. "Day in, day out we practice free throws and I think that helped us win tonight.
"We just didn't give up."
The Lady Dawgs (12-8, 2-1 12-5A) could have - Cove led 24-23 at halftime but didn't score a point in the second half until more than five minutes ran off the clock in the third quarter. During that stretch, Ellison (13-5, 1-2) took a 31-24 lead while Cove went nine possessions without a basket.
Freshman Brittany Gamble broke the funk with the first of her three baskets in the quarter. Letia Howard, who had 12 of her 14 points in the second half, cut the deficit to 32-31 on a circus-style layup and ensuing and-one free throw.
Neither team could pull away in the fourth quarter. Cove answered a 40-37 Ellison lead with Howard's second 3 in the period while Young came back for the Lady Eagles at the buzzer.
Ellison had a chance seconds before to take the lead, but Bryaunea Hall blocked Young on a jumper at the free-throw line. The ball ended up in Rodriguez's hands and she made both free throws to put Cove up 45-42 with 3.3 seconds left.
On the ensuing Ellison possession, Alayshia Hunter took the ball in and found Kaneisha Saygo, who passed to Young on the right side for the 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded.
"That was very exciting," Ellison head coach Sherry McKinnon said. "We had confidence and they ran it just like we drew it and whose hands of who we wanted it in."
Said Rodriguez: "It was crazy when she hit that 3. Somehow I knew it was going to go in - I had a feeling but we just had to out there and go tougher the second time."
Young's magic couldn't overcome the Lady Eagles' offensive struggles. That included just four points in the game's opening seven minutes and a 4-for-19 third quarter.
Ellison missed its first two shots in overtime and followed a Hunter jumper with back-to-back turnovers that Cove converted on the other end to build a 52-47 lead.
"We got a lot of shots inside and they just did not fall," McKinnon said, also pointing out the Lady Eagles' 13-of-24 showing at the foul line.
Hunter, who led Ellison with 15 points, and Young made three free throws and Kaneitra Curtis added a late 3, but the Lady Eagles were left chasing and fouling Rodriguez, whose only miss at the line came with 38 seconds left in the first quarter. Saygo posted a double-double for the Lady Eagles with 10 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.
Rodriguez added seven rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals to her game-high total.
"There's some kids that when it comes to pressure, they don't want it, but there's several kids that I have the confidence in," Cove head coach Teresa Durham said. "It could have been Sarai, it could have a couple of the guards ... but I was very proud for her tonight. I thought she played a tremendous game."