— By TONY EIERDAM
ABILENE - The Santo Ladycats are going to the girls' state basketball tournament in Austin.
Paced by a game-high 24 points by senior Payton Billue and another 15 from senior Taylor Nemeth, the Santo Ladycats rolled past the Windthorst Trojanettes, 53-47, Saturday afternoon in the girls' Class A, Region II, Division I finals at Abilene Christian University.
The Ladycats will play on Thursday morning at the University of Texas' Frank Erwin Center. The Ladyats' opponent in the game, which will start at either 8:30 a.m or 10 a.m., has yet to be determined. All four state-qualifying teams will be seeded by the UIL later this weekend.
As the final buzzer sounded, Santo senior Breeana Raffaele ran the lenghth of the court and jumped into her father's arm. Her father is Ladycats head coach Tony Raffaele, in his ninth season as Santo head coach.
"I have all of these memories of going to watch the state tournament," Breeana Raffaele said, "and me and my Dad have always talked about getting there (as a player and a coach) instead of sitting in the stands, and now we are going.
"Dad (Tony Raffaele) has never grinded as hard as he has this year, really pushing us hard every day, and it has paid off."
"The seniors have been our backbone," Ladycats head coach Tony Raffale said. "And they came through in the biggest game of the year."
The Ladycats led 18-9 at the end of the first quarter thanks in part to six points from Billue, including a three-pointer, five points from Breeana Raffaele and a pair of jumpers from Nemeth.
Nemeth hit three jumpers in the second quarter to help the Ladycats to a 31-22 halftime lead.
The Ladycats took a 35-28 lead into the fourth quarter, but Windthorst could never get closer than six points. Billue helped to put the game away by scoring six points on a Ladycats' 9-4 run that gave Santo a 48-35 lead with 1:50 left to play.
Windthorst cut the lead to seven poonts with 35 seconds left, but Billue was fouled and hit both free throws to seal the win.
Strawn ladies fall in regional finals
TYLER - Lipan ran past the Strawn Lady Hounds, 80-40, Saturday morning in the girls' Class A, Region III, Division II finals at Tyler Junior College.
For more coverage on both games see Tuesday's Index.