Late push helps S&S earn a postseason berth
SADLER — It was quite a symbolic passing of the torch for S&S seniors Suzanna Griffin, Baylee Hix and Jamie Neel. Before the trio was feted for Senior Night, the Lady Rams were able to clinch a playoff spot thanks to a handful of freshmen.
It was four years ago when S&S last made it to the postseason and the bookending for the seniors seemed appropriate. They were part of a group that ended a nearly four-decade playoff drought in their first varsity action.
And while the return this time wasn't as long, it comes with the promise of what this year's underclassmen can continue to strive for after the Lady Rams defeated Valley View, 36-28, in the District 10-3A finale.
"It's been a minute since we've been back," S&S head coach Rodney Ross said. "I knew the talent was there. The freshman class is so young and talented, it shows them hard work pays off."
A trio of freshmen — Brenna Howard had 13 points, eight rebounds and three steals, Kaci Swindall added 12 points and Allie Hickman totaled six points and seven rebounds — powered a fifth-straight victory for S&S (12-14, 8-6), which tied Paradise for third place. The two teams will have a coin flip to determine who gets the third seed and who gets the fourth.
Jade Studamire had 15 points and Andee Renfro added 11 points for Valley View (6-11, 5-9), which finished the season in sixth place.
S&S went into the match-up tied with Paradise and Pilot Point for third. The latter two were squaring off, so the winner was going to get one of the spots. S&S was guaranteed no worse than a play-in game if it had lost and Pilot Point beat Paradise.
The Lady Rams took care of business but would have made it regardless after Paradise's victory. When S&S made the playoffs in 2018 — it needed a play-in game to get there so it wouldn't have been uncharted territory.
"We wanted to take care of it tonight," Ross said. "We could never look that far ahead. Just go 1-0 every time and it would be enough."
Neither side did much scoring in the fourth quarter as turnovers hampered both teams. S&S committed nine after having 13 combined in the first three quarters. Valley View had seven, a similar total to each of its first two quarters.
But since the Lady Eagles were forced to play catch-up, the miscues cost them more.
Valley View managed to within five points twice, the last on a layin from Harley Dawson with 5:33 remaining. Those were the only Lady Eagle points not scored by Studamire and Renfro and they were the last points of the game for Valley View.
S&S had managed just a bucket from Swindall to that juncture and she added a free throw and a putback the rest of the way to give the Lady Rams enough space to hold on.
It was a two-possession game right out of the break and the S&S lead was still at six with just under six minutes left in the third before the Lady Rams had an 8-0 burst. Hickman had consecutive putbacks and then Howard produced back-to-back layups.
The latter bucket produced the largest lead at 14 points but Studamire then scored the final six points of the third. S&S took a 31-23 lead into the last quarter and was able to nurse it to the finish line.
"I feel good about our bench. That second five is an energy group," Ross said. "That set the stage for the ones to relax."
In the second quarter when it looked like Valley View was going to make a push, the Lady Rams pushed right back.
Renfro trimmed the deficit to four in the middle of the stanza and then Swindall connected from beyond the arc. When Renfro hit two free throws with 38 seconds remaining in the half, Swindall drained another three for the 19-11 advantage at the break.
Studamire scored the first four points to give Valley View the quick lead but she had the only other scoring for the Lady Eagles in the frame — a free throw at the 2:24 mark — and S&S held a 9-5 advantage at the end of the first quarter.
Howard and Swindall hit three-pointers while Howard and Liv Manley provided the rest of the points at the line.
"We defend really, really well," Ross said. "We're young and make a lot of mistakes but the one thing we do well is play great defense."
Valley View 28