By CLINT FOSTER
Basketball fans and families were in for a treat, Saturday afternoon, as they flocked from all around the 14-county surrounding area to the Mineral Wells High School Gym for the 25th annual Chicken Express All-Star Basketball Classic.
Both the girls' and boys' games – pitting the finest regional players on the high-school hardwood against each other in "East" and "West" teams – were filled with athletic plays and were decided in the final minute of competition.
In the girls' game, the East team rallied from a 46-38 halftime deficit to win 86-80, thanks to some late-game heroics from Santo forward Taylor Nemeth and Weatherford guard Faith Woodring.
After a fairly dominant first half from West squad – that included local stars such as the Regional Champion Santo Ladycats' point guard Breanna Raffaele and Mineral Wells' own Courtney Peña – the East girls clawed their way to a 72-72 tie late in the second half.
In need of a big play, Kelsey Laake of Jacksboro drained a three with 2:46 left in the game to put the East up for the first time.
As the clock dwindled to 1:30, Cleburne's Bria McCullough hit a shot to put the West within one, at 79-78, but, as she had so many times during Santo's run to the state tournament, it was Nemeth came through in the clutch for the East.
The Ladycat nailed a shot from just outside the key to give the East an 81-78 lead with about a minute left. After a made free throw for the East, Weatherford's Abbye Shearmire brought the West within two at the 23-second mark, but her Lady Roo teammate Woodring iced the game with two buckets from the charity stripe and a layup at the buzzer.
As the game's leading scorer with 20 points, Nemeth was named Most Valuable Player and collected a trophy to go along with the win and her participation medal.