BY DENNIS SILVA II | email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Morton Ranch girls basketball coach Kisha Jones gambled and won.
During the second overtime of Saturday’s District 19-6A playoff play-in game at Paetow High, with the Mavericks tied with Cinco Ranch at 68 with 3 seconds left, Jones called a play that Cinco Ranch was familiar with.
She threw in a wrinkle, however. It might work, it might not, Jones thought. Her players might see it, they might not.
They did. Inbounding underneath Cinco Ranch’s basket, Mavs sophomore Schyler Falls, recently moved up from the junior varsity, looked right before snapping her eyes left to throw a quick pass to sophomore post Aaliyah Wiley underneath the basket. Wiley had backdoor-cut to her right after faking to the middle underneath the rim, caught the pass, and flung in a lay-in high off the glass, while being fouled in the process, for the go-ahead basket that determined a 71-68 two-overtime win for the Mavericks over the Cougars to earn 19-6A’s final ticket to the postseason.
“I saw my teammate, Jharyn, get collapsed on, and it was a moment of, ‘Oh, I’m open!’” said Wiley, who finished with 11 points and 17 rebounds. “I didn’t want to yell to give it away, but I got the ball. I thought, man, if I don’t make this … that’s another overtime, and I’m exhausted. I’m sick. I had to make it.
“I put it up and I willed it, I prayed, I said all the ‘Hail Marys’. It had to go in. It has to. My second reaction was, oh, she hit me, so I’m going to fall, so if I don’t get the bucket I get my free throws. It was amazing. It went in.”
The shot sealed a remarkable rally for the playoffs for the Mavericks (21-12), who were without two starters and had moved up three players from the junior varsity two weeks ago. Since losing their top player, junior post and double-double talent Madyson Bailey, to a torn ACL during the last game of the first round of district play against Katy on January 11, Morton Ranch, which started the season 19-5, finished the district campaign 0-7.
That slide slipped Morton Ranch from second place into a three-way tie for fourth in the district, with the Mavericks, Tompkins and Cinco Ranch all ending 19-6A play at 5-7 apiece.
Morton Ranch overcame Tompkins 43-40 in overtime Friday night to eliminate the Falcons and set up a do-or-die affair against Cinco Ranch. In a physical, quick and athletic contest, complete with fascinating shot-making at times, the Mavericks escaped, holding off a precocious and junior-laden Cougars team led by versatile playmakers Catherine Hursh (19 points, four rebounds), Madison Mascorro (18 points, 4-for-7 from 3) and Taylor Rowland (14 points, four rebounds).
With senior guard Kamill Rangel holding Morton Ranch steady in the first half with 11 points, fellow senior backcourt mate D’Andrea Hunter was brilliantly unstoppable in the second half.
Hunter scored 22 of her game-high 27 points in the second half and overtimes. In regulation, she drilled the 3-pointer with 24 seconds left to force overtime at 55-all. In the first overtime, it was Hunter’s pull-up midrange shot with 30 seconds left that forced a second overtime.
“I love those moments,” Hunter said. “I love being put in that situation. It’s about doing what you’ve got to do. It’s a time when leaders step up. As a leader, you can’t show any mercy or weakness. You have to stay calm and push through.”
Jones was in genuine amazement to hear of her star player’s offensive outburst in the second half.
“We needed that,” Jones said. “Kamill carried us in the first half. She gets in foul trouble, and Dee finished. She loves the big moment. Her jump shot was flowing. Clean touch shots.”
The game was back-and-forth most of the night. Neither team’s lead was more than six points.
Wiley’s and Hunter’s late heroics were barely enough to offset the shooting of Mascorro, a dynamic freshman talent, versatility of Hursh and two-way playmaking of sophomore guard Abby Bala, who had 12 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
When the final buzzer sounded, mercifully it seemed, Morton Ranch had played 11 quarters of basketball in less than 24 hours, winning by a combined six points.
“That’s the way it’s supposed to be though, right? In the playoffs, that’s how it is,” Jones said. “These girls are resilient. This season seems so long … it’s like a tale of halves in one season. But the girls persevered. They fell down and they got up, and that’s the biggest thing I can say. They didn’t quit fighting.”
After missing the playoffs last year, the Mavericks are back.
“We were down, and a lot of teams kicked us when we were down,” Wiley said. “It was a lot of rebuilding our team back up. We’re a lot stronger now, having to re-trust each other and play as a team again.”