Mineral Wells Index
By CLINT FOSTER
AUSTIN – They had made it to the dance.
For the first time in 57 years, the Santo Ladycats (24-9) had reached the Class 1A Division 1 state semifinals and, in doing so, helped ninth-year head coach Tony Raffaele and his daughters – Breeana and Reagan – achieve a lifelong dream.
But just as Cinderella was forced to leave the ball early, the Ladycats' trip to Austin came to an untimely end, Thursday morning.
The Plains Cowgirls (29-3) defeated Santo, 56-39, in the Final Four in front of an announced crowd of 4,397 at the Frank Erwin Center on the campus of the University of Texas. With the Ladycats just one win away from grasping a chance at the school's first-ever state championship in girls' basketball, Tony Raffaele said the loss stung.
"It's hard," he said. "It's very hard to win playoff games. No doubt about it.
"The main thing is even though we lost and were disappointed, there are a lot of young ladies out there that would have loved to be in our shoes, even after a loss. There are a lot of girls that dream of that opportunity and we got it. We have to be proud of that."
It was a deflating way for the Ladycats to leave the tournament, to say the least. As a team, Santo shot only 25 percent from the field and were outrebounded by the Cowgirls, 44-31. Plains also surprisingly outscored Santo in the paint, 20-6, with Plains' guard Riley Earnest leading the way with a game-high 26 points, including a perfect 10-for-10 from the free-throw line.
"We played a little too tentative; we need to be a little more aggressive," Raffaele said. "Plains came out a little more aggressive and they outrebounded us."
Even so, the Ladycats managed to fight through three lead changes and two ties. Sophomore forward Chasen Howard led the way for Santo with a team-high 15 points and 10 rebounds to go along with two blocks and a steal.
Santo only saw three other Ladycats score, as seniors Payton Billue, Breeana Raffaele and Courtney Flanagan scored nine, eight and seven points, respectively.
"Payton Billue stood out all year long," coach Raffaele said. "She's been taking it to a different level all season.
"Chasen is starting to come into her own. She played really well. So did all of my seniors."
With the loss, Santo will bid farewell to a phenomenal senior class that included Madison Lasater and Taylor Nemeth in addition to Billue, Flanagan and Raffaele.
Raffaele thanked the entire Palo Pinto County community, especially Santo, for its support throughout the Ladycats' playoff run. But don't count on it taking another 57 years to happen again.
Despite this season's sour end, Raffaele said Austin has not seen the last of the Santo Ladycats. With Howard leading a talented core of young players, Raffaele said he is excited about the future.
"I have a very good freshman and sophomore group and we will return a couple of juniors from this team," he said. "I think the talent's there. We'll be less experienced, but we'll definitely have the talent to get back (to the state tournament)."
Now they can say they've done it before. They made it to the dance. Now all Santo needs to do is find that glass slipper and go back. And with the right work ethic and a little luck, Santo could be closer than ever to finally achieving championship glory with Raffaele at the helm.