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."