GUNTER — Putting together a deep playoff run, or two, or three, is something that has come easy at times for the teams in Gunter.
The football team has won two state titles in the past three years. The volleyball team has reached the region final two seasons in a row. The baseball team is usually among the final four in the region.
As the calendar has turned to a new year and district play for basketball is in full swing, the Lady Tigers are hoping to start a significant streak of their own. The girls basketball program hasn’t won a playoff game in six years and hasn’t reached the third round in more than a decade.
“The thing I love about these kids is they have a lot of pride. They want to get it back to where it use to be,” first-year Gunter head coach Katie Stinton said. “It means something to them to get this program going in the right direction and back to excellence.”
In the first quarter of district play the Lady Tigers are taking the steps to make that happen after their latest victory, 67-22, against Whitesboro in 9-3A action.
Blakely Esnard and Sarah Putnicki each scored 16 points, Bri Carr added 14 points and Rhyan Pogue chipped in 10 points for Gunter (15-10, 3-1), which is a half-game ahead of Ponder and Pilot Point for second place going into Friday’s match-up at Pilot Point.
Haylee Boren and Jessica Hamon each had eight points for Whitesboro (5-19, 0-3), which will try to earn its first district victory when it hosts S&S on Friday night.
The Lady Bearcats made just six shots on the night and had only one basket in the first half as Gunter used its defense to set the tone and race to a large lead early.
“We’ve got to lean on that a little bit. We’ve had some shooting percentages woes at times,” Stinton said. “We had to get out and trap a little bit. I thought we did a good job of that.”
Gunter has matched its longest winning streak of the season at three and has yet to lose more than back-to-back contests.
“We’re definitely a work in progress. I feel like we’re climbing. We haven’t reached our peak yet,” Stinton said. “We want to make progress every day. I couldn’t be more proud of the way these girls have bought in.”
The Lady Tigers went into half-time holding a 30-point lead at 38-8. It was a 17-4 advantage by the end of the first quarter with all five Gunter starters scoring in the quarter with none notching more than four points.
Boren’s basket in the opening frame was the only one Whitesboro hit in the half with free throws accounting for the other six points.
Carr had almost all of her offense — 12 points — in the half, including the layup with 27 seconds to go before the break to push the margin to 30. Gunter was also 10-of-14 at the free-throw line and Pogue contributed eight points through two quarters.
Putnicki dominated the early part of the third quarter, following a three-pointer by Esnard, as she scored on three straight possessions to widen the gap. Near the end of the third quarter Taylor Boddie had a three-pointer for a 56-15 margin and Channing Clement opened the fourth with a three moments before the lead crested at 45.
Gunter’s district loss was by an 11-point margin against Ponder heading into the Christmas break and first-place Pottsboro is waiting after Pilot Point for the Lady Tigers to close out the first half of their 9-3A schedule. If Gunter simply matches what it has done so far, it will return to the playoffs for the second consecutive season and third time in four years. But there are bigger goals in mind down the road.
“Our guards are starting to play a lot better for us. We’re starting to drive the ball a lot more. ” Stinton said. “When we’re playing well I feel like we can beat anyone in our district. We have to be able to take care of the basketball during the stretch when people pressure us.”