By TONY EIERDAM
OLNEY – Jumping out to a fast start offensively and playing smothering defense, the Mineral Wells Lady Rams defeated the Vernon Lady Lions, 67-44, here Tuesday night in a Class 3A, Region I bi-district playoff game.
The win advances the Lady Rams (23-9) to the area championship game against District 8-3A champion Liberty Hill. The contest will be played at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Hamilton.
Four Lady Rams reached double figures in scoring. Senior wing Niya Benavides was hot from the outside and scored a team-high 19 points, and junior guard Bethany Allen added 13. Eight of Allen’s points came on layups after length-of-the-court passes from senior post Sydney Shelstead, and another layup came from a steal.
Also reaching double figures was freshman point guard Natalie Ragland with 12 points, and Shelstead finished with 11 to go along with a game-high 16 rebounds.
“BB (Allen) really gave us a lift,” Lady Rams head coach Ed Shelstead said. “She doesn’t realize how important she is to us, and when she has a game like she did (Tuesday) we can beat a lot of teams.”
The coach said that Allen’s easy layups – three of which came in a 19-3 run to begin the game – were by design.
“That has been a staple of what we have been trying to do all year,” Ed Shelstead said. “There are just some nights like tonight where it really works well.
“When you play a team that runs a zone, and Vernon’s guard had a tendency to sink really deep to help on the post, those layups happen.
“Sydney is smart and she was getting those passes off really quick, and Bethany and her have developed a chemistry.
“Those two have gotten better at it each game, and now they truly have a chemistry for it.”
Ed Shelstead also pointed out that Sydney Shelstead had 13 rebounds in the first half, but when she was whistled for her third foul she played a little less aggressively in the second half in order to remain in the game.
“Sydney got into foul trouble or she would have had more boards in the second half,” he said. “But she knows what to do, and she did what she needed to do under the circumstances.
“But without her grabbing all of the rebounds and holding down the middle we probably don’t win as big as we did.”
The Lady Rams used a stubborn defense to jump out to an early 15-2 lead. Allen scored twice on layups – the second after a steal – Ragland also had a pair of layups and Sydney Shelstead connected on a pair of jumpers in the lane and scored on a free throw. Kennedy Shelstead also had a layup in the run off a feed from sister Sydney, and Benavides canned a pair from the charity stripe.
Vernon only scored once in its first nine trips down the court.
“We tried to mix it up defensively, and our defense helped us get a big lead early,” Ed Shelstead said. “We were hustling, and everyone was in control but at the same time aggressive.
“Our defense in the first quarter was very good, and we pretty much maintained that through the rest of the game.”
After Vernon’s Erika Garza stopped the bleeding with a free throw, MWHS followed with an 8-0 run – with six of the points coming on layups following steals – to extend its lead to 23-3.
Fittingly, the Lady Rams’ first-quarter scoring ended when Sydney Shelstead grabbed a defensive rebound and flung a baseball-style, length-of-the-court pass to a streaking Allen, who caught the pass on the fly and scooped in a layup for a 25-10 advantage.
The game slowed down in the second period. Sydney Shelstead and Allen hooked up again for an easy layup, and the MWHS defense held the Lady Lions to just a pair of field goals as the Lady Rams led 34-15 at the half.
In the third quarter, Benavides put the Lady Lions away.
With Vernon properly concerned about defending the paint, Benavides was left open on the perimeter. She connected on three three-point buckets in the period to help the Lady Rams take a 55-30 lead into the fourth quarter.
MWHS 25 9 21 12 – 67
VHS 10 5 15 14 – 44
MWHS – Niya Benavides 19, Bethany Allen 13, Natalie Ragland 12, Sydney Shelstead 11, Pamela Hopkins 6, Kennedy Shelstead 4, Ashlynn Robinson 2.