PROSPER — It was a ending which would have been hard to believe and yet somewhat expected. The Howe Lady Bulldogs lived in that reality all season long.
With four starters back from a team which reached the third round a year ago, there were expectations to improve on that success. Standing in the way was history, because the program had never made to the region tournament.
And so the Lady Bulldogs found themselves fighting a perennial power for a berth at state, having already guaranteed the best season in school history. But Howe wanted more, especially after eliminating the defending 3A champion in the region semis.
If a couple of layups had gone in, or a couple of free throws had gone down, then maybe the Lady Bulldogs’ historic run would have continued. But the Lady Raiders took the lead for good in the middle of the third quarter and held off Howe, 50-40, in the Class 3A Region II final.
“We didn’t play well enough to win,” Howe head coach Derek Lands said. “We had everything going wrong and we were still in the ball game. We were having to overcome ourselves.”
Winnsboro (29-7) advances to the state tournament and will play in a semifinal against an opponent to be determined at either 1:30 p.m. or 3 p.m. on Thursday at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The UIL will announce the pairings on Sunday.
Jenna Honore and Trinity Williams each scored 11 points, Cassidy Anderson added nine points, Ally Harvey totaled five points and six rebounds and Sierra Copeland chipped in four points and eight rebounds for Howe (29-6).
The Lady Bulldogs will lose four starters — Honore, Anderson, Harvey and Molly Wilson — as well as Paetyn Ford to graduation after they helped cement their legacy at Howe.
“It’s hard losing kids you really love,” Lands said.
Faith Acker had 20 points and 10 rebounds, Halle Darst and Rachell Pinnell each scored 10 points and Leah Ward chipped in seven points for Winnsboro, which is making its 13th appearance at state and first since 2011 as it chases a fourth title.
The Lady Raiders had an advantage at the free-throw line by making 23-of-30 attempts, including six-of-eight in the final 36 seconds as Howe was trying to rally. Pinnell made all 10 of her attempts in the game.
The Lady Bulldogs connected on just 12-of-24 from the line with seven of the misses coming in the second half.
“It’s been our Achilles heel all year long. Sometimes we shoot 80 percent and sometimes we shoot 40 percent,” Lands said. “There’s got to be a happy medium.”
Despite all that and foul trouble to both Copeland, who fouled out, and Harvey, who ended with four fouls, the Lady Bulldogs had their chances in the final minutes.
“We were there,” Lands said. “We needed a break or two in the final five minutes and we never got one.”
Winnsboro started the fourth quarter with a 7-0 run powered by the freshman center Acker, whose frame at 6-foot-1 proved tough to tangle with.
“We let the big girl bother us,” Lands said.
Honore’s free throw was the only scoring for Howe in the first three-plus minutes of the frame and the Lady Raiders had their largest lead of 11 points at 36-25.
Anderson hit a three from the left corner and Williams converted a three-point play to trim the deficit to five with 3:19 remaining right after Copeland had fouled out.
Honore’s three with 2:42 remaining pulled the Lady Bulldogs within four before Winnsboro quickly doubled the advantage.
A final push from Howe included another Anderson three and a foul-line jumper by Harvey with just under a minute to go that made it a four-point margin again at 43-39.
Winnsboro turned it over on the ensuing possession but Anderson’s three to cut it to one was off the mark and the Lady Raiders sealed the win at the line.
A 6-0 run by Howe in the third quarter allowed the Lady Bulldogs to tie the game at 20. The teams traded free throws before Williams hit a three and Honore came up with a steal and score with 4:56 to go in the stanza.
Darst responded with a three-pointer to put Winnsboro ahead to stay and Honore’s free throws in the final minute made it a 27-24 game going to the fourth.
Anderson’s three to start the second quarter gave Howe a 12-9 advantage but a 6-0 burst from Winnsboro gave it the lead for the rest of the first half as the Lady Bulldogs managed just a free throw from Williams with 2:21 showing the rest of the frame.
Winnsboro took a 19-13 lead into the locker room when it scored the final four points of the half on baskets by Acker.
The first quarter ended in a deadlock at nine points. Winnsboro got out to a quick 4-1 advantage before Howe jumped in front and was up 8-4 after an Honore three with 3:31 left. The Lady Raiders finished the quarter strong to get even after the opening eight minutes.
The Lady Bulldogs advanced to the region final with a 62-53 victory over defending 3A champion Mount Pleasant Chapel Hill (32-3).
Harvey scored 19 points, Anderson hit five three-pointers and finished with 18 points, Copeland added 10 points and Honore chipped in nine points.
Chapel Hill forced overtime with a three-pointer in the closing seconds to tie the game at 49 but Howe regained its composure and was able to eliminate the Lady Devils.
“We just had a defensive breakdown but it worked out,” Lands said. “We matched up really well with them. As long as we could handle a little bit of their pressure I felt good about our chances.”