STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
MARBLE FALLS — Appropriately, Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” was blaring through the speakers at Max Copeland Gym on Feb. 20 as fans poured onto the court seconds after the Marble Falls High School girls basketball team defeated Austin High 62-45 in the regional quarterfinals to high-five, hug, and congratulate the Lady Mustangs for returning to the Class 5A Region IV tournament for the fourth time in program history.
Junior forward Emma Holcomb said the electric atmosphere was awesome, especially the final seconds as fans couldn’t wait to get to the players and coaches to congratulate them.
“That was insane,” she said of how involved the fans were throughout the contest. “How close our team is radiates. I thought we did amazing.”
Next up for the Lady Mustangs is a rematch of last year’s semifinal game against Corpus Christi Flour Bluff at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, at Northside Sports Gym, 8400 North 1604 in San Antonio.
During the game against Austin High, the two teams exchanged baskets throughout the first half. Marble Falls ended the opening stanza on a 6-2 run for a 15-11 advantage.
But the Maroons answered with a run of their own to start the second quarter to trim the deficit to 19-18 with five minutes remaining in the half.
Austin High wouldn’t get any closer.
The Lady Mustangs went on a 7-0 run thanks to buckets from sophomore point guard Rylie Ulbricht, junior forward Trinity Boyd, and senior center Mya McMillian for a 26-18 advantage.
Marble Falls led 32-25 at intermission.
The Lady Mustangs played its finest quarter of the game by leaning on their senior center and senior forward Aubree Adams. Adams scored back-to-back buckets that energized her teammates.
Meanwhile, Austin High made it a point to pack the lane to limit McMillian’s production after she scored 16 in the first half.
The Marble Falls guards made the Lady Maroons pay as sophomore guard Kendall Ulbricht buried a 3-pointer and twin sister Rylie scored a layup on a give-and-go play. When Rylie Ulbricht scored another layup for a 44-32 lead with 1:42 left in the period, Austin High called a timeout.
Marble Falls ended the stanza with a 50-34 lead.
Both teams matched each other point for point in the final quarter.
Lady Mustangs head coach John Berkman noted the strategy was to be balanced offensively by ensuring everybody had opportunities for layups or open looks at the basket for long field goal attempts. At halftime, coaches told the players to be ready for Austin High to double-team McMillian, which they did, and look for the open player and take advantage.
“If you have only one player who can score, they can take that away,” he said. “Our other players, they did a good job. Our offensive rebounding was crucial.”
McMillian is known for her ability to score in a variety of ways near the basket, rebounding, and shot blocking. But her passing ability was on display, too. She set up Boyd, Rylie Ulbricht, Kendall Ulbricht, and Adams for made buckets.
“We’ve worked on that a lot,” Berkman said with a smile. “We’ve been working a lot on the post-to-post passing against the zone. (Austin High) has been running a zone (defense), and we forced them out of it to go to a man (defense).”
McMillian led all scorers with 24 points followed by Rylie Ulbricht with 13, Adams added 10, Boyd dropped in eight, Holcomb had four, and Kendall Ulbricht finished with three.
Austin senior post Mia Heide led her team with 13 points, followed by senior guard Ellen Hagen with 11, and junior forward Danielle Serna added nine.
Both Berkman and Holcomb noted that reserves continue to play a key role in the game’s outcome. Marble Falls leaned heavily on reserves to play important minutes beyond simply allowing the starters to rest. The reserves had to play solid defense to allow the Lady Mustangs to keep their double-digit leads and score on the other end when they had the chance.
“As long as we stay strong,” Holcomb said. “We knew it before. We had to keep focused. A lot of teams will double Mya. She knows what she’s doing. We’ve mentally prepared for that.”
“That was our game plan,” Berkman said. “They have a really good guard and a really good post. We have a whole team. And a whole team was going to get it done. We stuck to the game plan and made some really good plays. I’m proud of the girls.”