By CLINT FOSTER
OLNEY – They may have come up short on the scoreboard, but don’t call the Mineral Wells Lady Rams “losers” after Tuesday night’s showing in the first round of the Class 3A, Region 1 playoffs.
Determined not to let history repeat itself, the Lady Rams went down swinging in a 57-42 loss to the Wichita Falls Hirschi Lady Huskies – a team that ran past the Lady Rams in a 71-33 victory in late December.
“I’m really proud of all of them,” Mineral Wells head coach Leslie Holman said of her girls after the game. “I thought we fought hard.
“We came out a little tense, a little nervous it looked like.
“But once we settled down and started playing, we made a ball game of it. If we could have made some free throws and some of those easy buckets, it could have easily been a different ball game.
“But I’m very proud of them. They beat us by nearly 40 points last time, so, that was a small victory in itself.”
Early turnovers and missed opportunities put the Lady Rams in a 33-17 hole at halftime, but the girls of Mineral Wells clawed back to a 43-33 deficit thanks to some hot shooting and fast play.
All-district sophomore guard Natalie Ragland simply caught fire in the second half, scoring 11 of her 17 points in the game’s final two frames. She added four assists, three rebounds and a steal to fill out her stat line.
But as vital as Ragland was to the Lady Rams’ comeback attempt, junior Pam Hopkins was the key spark.
She was lethal from the perimeter, flushing three 3-pointers to threaten the Lady Huskies’ lead.
“We just started hitting some shots,” Holman said. “I put Maddie (Papas) and Pam in, they hit a couple threes and that was all it took to light a little fire under them and get us going. We just didn’t match up well defensively with their big girls.”
Hirschi’s front court – featuring two 6-foot forwards – caused problems for the Lady Rams inside the paint.
Mineral Wells relied heavily on Tabby Santibanez on the defensive end.
She led the team in rebounding with nine and added four steals.
Senior Ashlynn Robinson was close behind, grabbing eight boards and Maddie Papas collected five rebounds to go along with six points.
Hirschi’s press defense also generated problems for the Lady Rams’ offense.
Despite scrimmaging against boys earlier in the week, Holman said her girls just didn’t seem ready for the Lady Huskies speed and aggressiveness.
With the season now over, the Lady Rams will bid farewell to two senior leaders in Robinson and Courtney Peña.
Both were invaluable defenders who will leave significant voids to be filled in the Mineral Wells roster.
But the Lady Rams also have great hope for next year’s campaign as they will return the bulk of their roster and three starters, including Ragland, Riley Bullock and Santibanez.
“We’re going to miss Courtney, especially on the defensive end. She’s my primary guard on defense,” Holman said. “And Ashlynn on the boards and playing underneath.
“Even though she’s not that big, she plays big. Those are going to be big shoes to fill.
“But even losing them I still have 10 people coming back from this team and that gives us a good core to work with next year.”
HHS 19 14 8 16 – 57
MWHS 12 5 10 15 – 43
MWHS – Natalie Ragland 17, Pam Hopkins 11, Maddie Pappas 6, Ashlynn Robinson 6, Tabby Santibanez 2..