BELTON — In past years, the Burnet High School girls basketball team was satisfied with competing well, regardless of the outcome. Those days are over. That was evident in the way the Lady Dawgs (27-7) eliminated China Spring from the Class 3A regional quarterfinals Wednesday.
Burnet won, 54-46, to return to the Class 3A Region I Tournament.
“Everything’s better the second time around,” head coach Mike Cavender said with a grin. “It’s great for our program, it’s great for our kids.”
The Lady Dawgs are now two wins away from reaching the state tournament. The first obstacle is Abilene Wylie, a 74-59 winner over Lubbock Cooper.
“Wylie is extremely talented with size and are athletic,” Cavender said. “They’re a lot like us. They want to press and run.”
Wylie eliminated Cooper thanks to a 28-11 fourth quarter. Wylie was 13 of 13 from the free-throw line in the last period.
Sophomore guard Peyton Little scored 33 points, while seniors Megan Rausch added 12 and Mackenzie Clay dropped in 10.
“They have extremely good shooters,” the Burnet coach said. “They want to try to wear you down.”
He made one prediction.
“The team that gets to the fourth quarter with the lead will have the advantage,” Cavender said. “I don’t think they’ll give up the lead from the free-throw line, and I don’t think we’ll give up the lead from the free-throw line.”
Against China Spring, Burnet trailed for only 90 seconds at 2-4 in the first quarter. Senior forward McKinsey Cozart scored on a putback to tie the game then sophomore guard Leah Cotton gave the Lady Dawgs the lead for good thanks to two free throws.
Burnet held China Spring scoreless for almost six minutes of the first quarter to build an 11-4 lead.
Burnet senior guard Kerstyn Towslee was the worker bee in the second. She scored 10 of the Lady Dawgs’ 18 points, including 2 three-pointers.
Still, China Spring senior guard Chelsea Kent kept her team in it thanks to scoring eight of the Lady Cougars’ 20 points in that period.
But Burnet led, 29-24, at the half.
The Lady Dawgs outscored China Spring, 9-6, in the third. Both teams scored 16 in the final eight minutes.
“We knew it was going to be a hard game,” senior guard Brooke Rockafellow said. “It could go either way.”
Though the Lady Dawgs won by double figures, Rockafellow, Towslee and senior guard Shay Graeter had to nail four of six free throws in the final minute to keep the advantage.
Burnet, which had struggled in the first half to limit China Spring to one shot, was able to rebound the Lady Cougars’ misses in the last three minutes to secure the win. The only China Spring points came from senior post Cara Gorton, who dropped in two free throws with 32 seconds left.
The Lady Cougars were in a matchup zone that allowed them to use their long arms to deflect passes.
Burnet countered by going to its pick-and-roll or driving to the lane and passing to the wings for three-pointers.
“Anyone who knows me knows we like to pick-and-roll,” Cavender said. “When you come off that pick-and-roll, you’re going to have options. They took a lot of shots coming off the pick-and-roll.”
But thanks to Cozart, the Lady Dawgs were able to get offensive rebounds or two-footers off passes.
“I’m most proud of our two-footers,” she said. “The past two or three games, we haven’t made any.”
Cozart, who is known for applying pressure to the player throwing the ball in, was able to disrupt the Lady Cougars’ press, allowing her teammates to get the loose balls and score.
“I just want the ball,” she said.
The coach was pleased with the way his players used the press as a weapon.
“I felt we did a good job with the press,” he said. “I felt the ones we did get, we scored on them.”
That forced Lady Cougar guards to give the ball to Gorton. Gorton had to dribble the length of the floor so Burnet could not get steals.
“It took some of the strength out of her,” Cavender said.
Cavender acknowledged China Spring’s ability to get offensive rebounds and draw fouls is what kept the Lady Cougars in the contest.
“We talked about it,” the coach said. “We preached it in timeouts. I’d be willing that 60 to 70 percent came on second-chance points.”
As a team, the Lady Dawgs were 18 of 39 for 46 percent in field goals, six of 13 from the three-point line for 46 percent, and 12 of 18 from the free-throw line for 67 percent.
Burnet grabbed 24 rebounds, 12 steals, recorded 17 deflections and seven hustle plays and dished 11 assists.
Towslee finished with 16 points, Graeter added 12, Cozart and senior post Eden Sultemeir dropped in six each, Rockafellow and sophomore wing Kati Maldonado scored five apiece, and Cotton finished with four.
Cozart also pulled down 10 rebounds, while Graeter added six steals and seven assists.
Cozart said the win was the result of the players coming together and trusting one another to do their parts.
“I’m really proud of everyone,” she said. “I think we played more as as t
eam. We just clicked.”
As he talked, Cavender reflected on the differences between last season and this one. The biggest is his returners will not be in awe of being at the regional tournament. They have the experience from last year and will not be satisfied just being in Lubbock.
“We’re going to make a run at Austin,” he said.