By TONY EIERDAM
Mineral Wells head girls basketball coach Ed Shelstead blamed the Lady Rams’ slow start Tuesday at home against Graham on possibly the MWHS ladies being a little nervous about playing on their home court for the first time in three weeks and just the third time in 15 games.
Graham jumped out to a 4-1 lead and trailed just 28-19 at halftime as a younger Lady Blues squad left the floor at the break brimming with confidence.
However, the Lady Rams got it together after the break, going on a 12-0 run in the first 1:42 of the third quarter and scoring 26 points while holding Graham to four points in the period on their way to a convincing 70-32 victory.
Shelstead offered a simple message to his girls in the locker room at the half, which seemed to loosen up the seemingly tight squad.
“There was no ‘fire-and-brimstone’ speech at halftime,” Shelstead said. “I actually went up to the chalkboard and wrote, ‘relax, don’t forget you are at home, you are supposed to be comfortable here.’
“Then I turned them loose and told them to go shoot. That’s it. This is our third home game, and in reality they may not be used to playing here just yet.
“There was no reason to yell at them. They were pressing offensively, and when they relaxed you saw what happened.”
Leading by just nine points, two players who had not scored in the opening half tallied the first four points of the run.
Junior guard Bethany Allen scored on a layup off a feed from Sydney Shelstead, and freshman point guard Natalie Ragland drained a jumper from the right baseline.
After a Graham turnover, sophomore Kennedy Shelstead scored on a driving layup and was fouled. She completed the three-point play by swishing the charity shot to increase the MWHS advantage to 35-19.
Mainly because of MWHS defensive pressure, Graham continued to have trouble in its offensive end.
Allen took a feed from Ragland and scored on a driving layup, and 20 seconds later senior guard Niya Benavides swished a three-point bucket from the left perimeter to extend the lead to 40-19 with 6:18 left in the third quarter.
Graham finally got on the board in the third quarter at the six-minute mark to end a scoring draught of almost five minutes.
“(Before the third-quarter run) we were getting good looks but not making shots,” Ed Shelstead said. “We were forcing dribble drives into help defense, and I just told them if it wasn’t there not to force it.
“I think Sydney (Shelstead) and Niya were pressing a little bit in the first half, but they both relaxed in the second half.”
The run happened without the scoring help of Sydney Shelstead, who after Graham’s first bucket of the third participated in a “sister act” by scoring on a layup after a pinpoint pass from Kennedy Shelstead to increase the lead to 42-21. Sydney Shelstead led the Lady Rams with 23 points and 14 rebounds.
The Lady Rams put the game away when Sydney Shelstead scored on a baseline drive and later on a layup after a steal, and junior guard Courtney Peña connected on a layup following a steal as MWHS led 48-21.
The Lady Rams closed the third-quarter scoring when Benavides – who finished with 22 points, including four treys – hit a three-pointer from the top of the key for a 54-23 cushion.
The fourth quarter saw a spark from a younger Lady Rams’ guard, sophomore Pam Hopkins. Hopkins went on a 7-0 run of her own when she hit a three from the left perimeter, nailed a baseline jumper and scored on a baseline drive to increase the lead to 65-27.
“Pam played awesome,” Ed Shelstead said. “She is a trooper. She will get better every game, and she seemed to play more relaxed than the seniors. Pam needed this kind of a game.
“She is someone who always works hard, and we are teaching her how to play the game a little different than what she is used to, and (Tuesday night) it showed.”
GHS 7 12 4 9 – 32
MWHS 15 13 26 16 – 70
MWHS – Sydney Shelstead 23, Niya Benavides 22, Pam Hopkins 7 Kennedy Shelstead 6, Courtney Peña 6, Bethany Allen 4, Natalie Ragland 2.