Gunter's run ends short of the state tournament

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Ponder's Kassi Ballard and Riley Jackson defend Gunter's Blakely Esnard during the Class 3A Region II final at Denton Braswell.

AUBREY — The pressure was felt across every inch of the court. It existed from baseline to baseline and it never let up every second Gunter had the ball.

The pressure had nothing to do with the magnitude of the stakes — a trip to state — because it would have been there if this was the first round of the playoffs, or a non-district game in December or district contests last year.

“We knew the key to the game was taking care of the ball,” Gunter head coach Katie Stinton said. “When we turned it over, we did a good job of the live ball turnovers not turning them into easy baskets. Just the extra possessions we gave them was huge. If we take better care of the ball, I really think its a different game.”

Very few teams have been able to crack Ponder’s trap and Gunter ended up with 26 turnovers and a season-low in points as the Lady Lions beat the Lady Tigers, 42-29, in the Class 3A Region II final at Denton Braswell.

Ponder (29-3) will face Brownfield in the state semifinals later this week. It is the second appearance in the final four and the first since 1998 for the Lady Lions, who hadn’t been past the region quarterfinals since that previous state berth.

The loss kept Gunter (26-6) from making its fourth appearance to go alongside three straight trips from 1995-97. The Lady Tigers were in some rare territory just by making the region final — the last time they were here was 2002 and they hadn’t been past the second round since 2008.

Alyssa Tarpley had 11 points, Sarah Putnicki added seven points and seven rebounds and Taylor Boddie and Rhyan Pogue chipped in five points apiece for Gunter, which will lose Putnicki, Boddie and Reagan Andres to graduation.

“It’s a super special group of kids. It really is. These kids were so easy to coach. They do what you ask of them,” Stinton said. “As a competitor you hate to lose but I just didn’t want it to end.

“It was hard to go into the locker room and see 11 girls you consider like daughters and they’re heartbroken.”

Tate Wells scored 16 points, Riley Jackson and Karly Ivy each chipped in seven points and Kassi Ballard totaled six points for Ponder.

The rematch from early December — a 61-44 victory by the Lady Lions — produced an extremely defensive-driven outcome. Ponder, which came in averaging 71.1 points, tied its season low for and was held under 50 for only the third time.

The Lady Tigers were held nine points under their previous low, made just nine shots and couldn’t claw their way back into it.

“They do a really good job of getting the game to their pace. We didn’t want a track meet,” Stinton said. “We put some people in different positions on the press break but they sped us up. When you’re not getting good possessions consecutively, you never get in a flow.”

Gunter did give itself an outside chance at a comeback by holding Ponder to six points in the fourth quarter. A 20-point deficit late in the third was down to 15 with 5:22 remaining.

Tarpley made a three-pointer with 2:06 left and it was at 14 before the Lady Tigers forced a turnover. But Gunter returned the favor and the opportunity to get closer than the final score with enough time left evaporated.

Ponder widened the gap in the third quarter. The Lady Tigers made only two shots — a three from Tarpley and a layin by Putnicki — and the six minutes in between those buckets only produced a pair of Putnicki free throws.

A 9-3 start to the second half gave Ponder some breathing room and the Lady Lions led 36-18 at the end of the third.

The start of the second quarter was promising as Pogue’s layup kicked off the scoring and pulled Gunter within two points.

But the Lady Tigers continued to struggle with turnovers and they went cold from the field when they had good looks. Pogue made a free throw with 22 seconds left in the first half to account for the only other offense.

Even with that nearly six-minute drought, Gunter trailed by just eight thanks to its defensive effort. But Jackson hit a three-pointer with eight seconds left to give Ponder, which made eight shots in the first two quarters but four of them were from deep, a 22-11 lead at the break.

In the first quarter, Ponder notched the first five points and went up 10-5 on a three-pointer from Wells with 3:32 left in the quarter.

Gunter nearly held the Lady Lions scoreless the rest of the frame but Ivy made two free throws with 23 seconds on the clock for a 12-8 advantage.

Boddie had all five of her points in the opening quarter, including a three-point play, and Tarpley made a three to keep the Lady Tigers within striking distance despite nine turnovers.

Region final

Class 3A Region II

Ponder                    42

Gunter                     29