By TONY EIERDAM
Although the Mineral Wells Lady Rams fell 52-46 Tuesday night at home to Springtown, a team that decisively beat them twice last year, the MWHS ladies appear to have gained the confidence it takes to not only reach the Class 3A playoffs, but win in the playoffs as well.
The Lady Rams, paced by a brilliant 24-point effort by sophomore point guard Natalie Ragland, held the lead through the first 12 minutes, were tied at the half and led as late as the middle of the third quarter.
But Springtown had just a little too much on the offensive end and on the boards as the Lady Porcupines escaped with a six-point win and handed the Lady Rams their first loss in District 6-3A play.
Lady Rams head coach Leslie Holman feels her team has turned the corner in the first half of district play. The Lady Rams will continue 6-3A action Friday at Kennedale in a 6:30 p.m. start.
“I was pleased with the girls’ hustle and effort,”Holman said. “Playing them to within six ... we are just right there.
“We just have to start believing that we are, and I feel this game will build our confidence. We can’t wait to play them again.
“Last year, I don’t think we came within 20 of them both times. But playing them to within six this year is a positive for us.
“If the kids will just keep fighting and believing we will get there, we will get them in Springtown (on Jan. 31).”
Ragland was force on offense and scored nine of the Lady Rams’ 10 points in the third quarter to keep MWHS in the game. Fifteen of her game-high 24 points came in the second half.
“Natalie did a great job,” Holman said. “She was doing a great job of taking the ball to the hole, and that’s what I told everyone to do if they saw they had a step on the girl guarding them.
“Natalie was using head fakes to get her shots off, and she did that well. She also drew fouls and got on the free throw line.
“I think for the rest of district teams will start keying on her, so we will have to figure out how we can spot up outside and let her kick it out for an open jumper.”
Springtown jumped out to a 7-3 lead before Ragland took over. The elusive guard drove the lane and drew a shooting foul, and she canned both charity shots.
Springtown turned the ball over on its ensuing possession, and Ragland made them pay with a put back that tied the game at 7-7.
With Springtown now properly focusing its attention on Ragland, Mineral Wells post Tabby Santibanez was left free on the left baseline, and she drained a three-pointer to give the Lady Rams a 10-7 lead.
In the second quarter Springtown could not shake Ragland.
On two occasions early in the period the Lady Porcupines tied the score only to see Ragland follow with a bucket. Also, junior guard Riley Bullock was left open twice and she took advantage with a jumper and a three-pointer as the Lady Rams took a 17-15 lead, much to the delight of the large student section and the loud MWHS fans.
A put back by Santibanez with one second left in the half tied the game at 23-23 as nothing was settled over the first 16 minutes.
In the third quarter Springtown had six different ladies score points. The key moment in the third was when Springtown erased a Lady Rams’ 30-27 lead (six of the Lady Rams’ first seven points to begin the quarter were scored by Ragland) when four different players – Ashley Mainord, Kaitlyn Mainord, Brooklyn Dauenhauer and Taylor Babcock – each scored from the field to ignite an 8-0 run that gave the Lady Porcupines a 35-30 lead, and a lead they would not relinquish.
The Lady Rams closed the gap to three points, 38-35, early in the fourth quarter after Santibanez – who finished with a double double with a team-high 10 rebounds and 10 points – canned a pair from the line.
However, Springtown followed with a 7-0 run to take a 45-35 lead.
The Lady Rams fought back to within five points, 49-44, after Bullock nailed a trey and Ragland hit a free throw and scored on a layup following a steal, but Springtown held off MWHS to take a six-point win and sole possession of second place in 6-3A.
Despite the loss, Holman was pleased to see her team hold such an explosive team to 52 points.
“Overall, I was happy with our defense,” she said.”But I was kind of disappointed in our press, and was looking for us to get more steals that could lead to layups.
“I think we gave up too many baskets on that early so we got out of that defense.
“I think a zone against Springtown was a better defense for us as compared to man. We didn’t match up well when we were in man.”