DONNA — After it was over, and the Lady Eagles had clinched a trip to the TAPPS Class A final four, Jaime Gonzalez looked like a wise and sagacious prophet.
Before his Harvest Christian team took on Brownsville First Baptist at Idea Academy Friday night, the coach had noted that the best thing about his girls, besides talent and experience, is versatility.
“We take what they give us, the other teams give us the guards, the guards perform,” said Gonzalez, in his fourth season just like the program. “But we have some posts who are smart, they box out, and sometimes we just go down low and work from there. Actually, we have four girls who could lead us in scoring on any given night. It just depends on what the other team does.”
On this given night, with the state quarterfinals on the line, Harvest got the best of Brownsville for the third time this season, as its guards dominated the first half and the bigs came to play after the break.
The result was a 61-52 win that got awfully close late after the Lady Eagles had led by 10 at the half. But the 22-4 club is moving on, thanks to the multiple weapons Gonzalez spoke of.
To begin the night, junior Leslie Storz was on fire, and stayed that way for 16 minutes. Harvest started slowly but with Storz (who averages 16 ppg) bombing in a trio of three-pointers, gained a 15-10 advantage after one. The Lady Eagles were fighting against a Lady Crusader group from their own league, District 6, one which had come on late in the year and won two playoff games coming in.
“We really didn’t have any trouble with the first two times,” Gonzalez had remarked beforehand. “But the girls are focused, they’re not taking this team lightly. They know what an honor it is to go the final four, but they also know that all we have in front of us is four quarters of basketball. Tonight.”
In carving out the solid lead at the half, Harvest depended on the lightning quick and aggressive Storz and senior point guard Stephanie Badillo, a smooth veteran who can read the defense and deliver the ball to the right spot. She had eight points in the second as the Lady Eagles established a 36-26 advantage, with Storz burning for 20 in the half.
But First Baptist rallied after the intermission led by exciting sophomore lefty Karla Adame, who scored 16 straight at one point and would finish with 25 to lead all scorers. The other problem was that the Lady Crusaders went to a box-and-one against Storz, and it worked wonders. She was limited to one point in the second half as the Brownsville group came on strong, cutting the lead to one at 42-41 heading into the fourth.
Luckily for Harvest, which has made the playoffs all four years of its existence, expiring last season in area, the posts were ready to rock and roll.
Senior Amanda Boggs, who grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds, can really move for an inside player. She and hard-working junior Cassie Mills got after it, while the perimeter defense, paced by tiny little Elitz Gomez, started to surround the speedy Adame.
But the big story in the fourth was the hustling Mills, who scored all 12 of her points in the final eight minutes, and added six rebounds and a pair of blocks in the period as Harvest took back the momentum. She ended with 12 points and 12 boards.
Badillo threw in a clutch trey off the semi-delay for a 50-43 lead at 5:15 and despite some touch-and-go moments down the stretch, the Lady Eagles carried the day. Mills made four money free throws in the fourth; she and Boggs outplayed their counterparts in the paint when it counted, and as a result, Edinburg’s unknown dynasty is headed to the semifinals.
Harvest will travel to Mansfield, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, for the tournament that could net a state title. Its probable first-round opponent Friday, West Texas powerhouse Plainview Christian, is the defending titlist.
Gonzalez said he was a little disappointed with how his team played in the third.
“I wanted us to come out and extend that lead, that was the plan,” he commented. “We usually play well with the lead, but not tonight. I told Cassie that she had to step it up for us, and she did. She was the leading scorer last round but she didn’t show up in the first half. She did a really good job after that.”
NOTES: The Harvest boys followed suit a day later with a 71-61 win over Geneva School of Boerne, as Valley leading scorer Tyler Klasser erupted for 41 points. The Eagles are now 29-4 for the year paced by Klassen, who averages 28 a night, and will play Friday in the final four, also in Mansfield.