BY TONY EIERDAM
SANTO – Perhaps the only moment when this unique girls’ basketball matchup between Palo Pinto County schools Mineral Wells and the Santo showed any sense of familiarity was when Santo sophomore post Chasen Howard hugged her old Mineral Wells Junior High School coach, current Lady Rams varsity head coach Leslie Holman, during pregame introductions.
The Ladycats have two players formerly student athletes at Mineral Wells ISD in Howard and Courtney Flanagan, who played at MWJH and one year at MWHS.
But despite the “friendly rivalry” both teams were more focused on themselves and getting prepared for district play in january.
“Honestly, this was just another game,” Santo senior point guard Breeanna Raffaele said. “It was just another game to play for us to get ready for district and the playoffs, where we want to get over the hump of (losing in the) regional quarterfinals.”
And play they did. Paced by a smothering defense and a patient offense, the Ladycats defeated the Lady Rams, 34-24, Tuesday night at Santo.
The win raises the Ladycats’ mark to 9-4, while the Lady Rams drop to 3-11.
The Ladycats were coming off an impressive performance last weekend at the Granbury tournament, where they defeated Class 4A Granbury and Class 3A Stephenville and lost by just seven points to Class 4A No. 10 Amarillo High School.
“I am pretty proud of our team, but we have more to show,” Breeanna Raffaele said. “We have to more to show, no doubt.”
The Ladycats showed on Tuesday that it is a team that can play defense, limiting the Lady Rams to single digits in the first three quarters.
“We hang our hat on playing strong defense and getting on the boards,” Ladycats head coach Tony Raffaele said.”That’s what we do, and that’s one of the things we did (Tuesday) and throughout the Granbury tournament.
“Our defense kept everything close. When we beat Granbury and Stephenville and had a chance to beat Amarillo it was because of our defense.”
“Our defense is carrying us, and we are getting quality offense from everyone. But we did not shoot too well (Tuesday) because we have dead legs from the tournament.
“But what I was pleased about (Tuesday) was we kept our emotions in check and just focused on playing.”
The Lady Rams, employing a new defense, made Santo work for every basket as they also held the explosive Ladycats to single digits in the first three periods.
Lady Rams head coach Leslie Holman was pleased with her team’s effort.
“It was a good game and I am very proud of my girls,” Holman said. “We worked on a zone defense and we are trying to get that ready for district play. That was a very positive thing for us.
“If the girls will keep working like that on defense we will be in every game.”
What hurt the Lady Rams in this game was free throw shooting. MWHS connected on just seven of 15 charity shots.
“That is an area we are usually pretty good in,” Holman said. “We have had pretty good free throw percentages lately, but (Tuesday) it worked against us.”
Santo jumped out to a 6-0 lead as Howard poured in four points an Taylor Nemeth drained a baseline jumper.
MWHS sophomore point guard Natalie Ragland got the lady Rams’ offense in gear when she fed senior post Ashlynn Robinson for a layup and later driving the lane and drawing a foul. She canned both free throws to cut the Ladycats’ lead to 8-4.
In the second quarter, the Ladycats went on an 8-3 run to extend their lead to 16-7 at the half. Four different Ladycats – Payton Billue, Megan MacPherson, Howard and Breeanna Raffaele – hit field goals in the period.
The game slowed down in the third quarter with patient offenses and zone defenses. The Lady Rams got back into the game with a brief 5-0 run courtesy of a three-point bucket from the left baseline by Pam Hopkins and a jumper from the free throw line by Ragland as MWHS cut the SHS lead to 18-12.
Billue hit one of two charity shots to close the third-period scoring as the Ladycats took a 19-12 lead into the fourth quarter.
Buckets by Santo’s Jaci Trotter and Flanagan at the beginning of the final stanza broke open the game as SHS led 23-12.
MWHS cut the lead to under 10 points just once in the fourth when Ragland connected on a pair from the charity strip to cut the Ladycats’ lead to 32-23 with 24 seconds left in the contest.
But a bucket by Callie Wharton seconds later gave the Ladycats an 11-point cushion.
Ragland closed the scoring with a free throw with one second left in the game.