By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
SALADO - Finally, it appears all the toiling against teams from higher classifications is beginning to pay off.
Beginning with back-to-back 3-pointers from senior wing Hadley Joiner, the Salado Lady Eagles went on a 17-3 run over a more than eight minute span between the first and second quarters.
The run led to a dominating 55-40 victory over 2A McGregor in their opening round game in the ninth annual Coach Smith Memorial tournament Thursday.
"Dang, we were ballin'," Joiner exclaimed when she heard the statistic.
Pressuring the Lady Bulldogs from the inbounds, the Lady Eagles (5-7) turned a 10-9 deficit with two minutes left in the first into a 26-13 advantage with less than two minutes to play before halftime.
"We're trying to become a better defensive team, and it's starting to pay off," Salado coach Jeanette McKinney said. "Of course we've played a pretty tough little schedule, and it's been brutal, but hopefully it's going to pay off for us. I think a little bit is starting to show now."
Against McGregor, it certainly looked that way.
"It helps us out a lot even though (the losing) can be frustrating at times," Joiner said. "We just know we have to come together as a team and play like we know how."
Following the pair of 3s from Joiner, Salado's last points of the first, McGregor didn't score a basket for nearly seven minutes.
The stretch started between a short jumper by sophomore Kayleigh Ripley with 27 seconds to play in the opening frame and a layup by senior post Rachel Sulak with 1:23 left in the second.
During that span, the Lady Eagles turned inside as senior guard Katy Clark bookended an 11-1 second quarter spurt with a pair of jumpers while Joiner, fellow senior Jenna Sebek, and sophomore guard Kylie Robinson each hit on short-range plays for the double-digit lead.
"Whenever shots are going in for us, and momentum's going our way, we just have fun, and everything seems to work out better for us when we're having fun and playing like we know how," said Joiner, who led all scorers with 22 points to go along with 11 points from Clark.
The run helped negate some early struggles with turnovers as Salado gave the ball away eight times in the first quarter alone, but finished with 17 for the game.
Instead, the Lady Eagles were forcing McGregor into mistakes, racking up 24 turnovers in the contest including six steals from junior guard Alexis Bowman.
"She played really good defense tonight," McKinney said. "... She's got the speed and the intensity, we just need to refine it a little bit, and she's done a fantastic job of responding."
Salado continued to put pressure on in the second half, stretching a 28-18 halftime advantage to 51-34 with less than two minutes to play in the game.
The Lady Eagles did all this with an injury depleted roster that added starting junior post Carling Urben to the list of walking wounded, to go along with point guard Brennan Boydstun (preseason ACL tear).
Salado will play Somerville in their second game of round robin at 4 p.m.
Salado boys 55, Aubrey 33 - Colton Meiman and Braxton Tucker combined for 22 points in the first half and the Eagles mounted a commanding 42-18 lead en route to a convincing victory in the opening round of the Coach Smith Memorial basketball tournament.
Looking to improve off last season's third-place finish at their home tournament, Salado (6-1) employed a full court press early and took advantage.
It jumped out to a 17-4 lead midway through the first quarter before tripling up Aubrey 21-7 by the end of the opening frame.
"The press helped out a lot, caught them off guard and got us a couple quick turnovers that got us up quick," Salado coach Kenny Mann said. "Then we hit a couple of 3-pointers, and before you knew it, we were up and they were trying to play catch-up the rest of the time."
Meiman scored 12 of his game-high 14 points in the first half, and Tucker added 10 of his 13, while senior guard Jacob Heiner added 10 points to the effort.
Salado will play Austin Travis at 2:30 p.m. today before ending the evening against Waco Connally at 8:30.
Contact Alex Byington at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7566.