SAN ANTONIO — The 20th-ranked Chireno Lady Owls were in perfect position to knock off one of the giants of the University Interscholastic League Class 1A Girls State Basketball Tournament Thursday morning when they went on a 7-0 run in a span of 55 seconds in the second period against No. 3 Lipan and pulled even with the Lady Indians, 14-14, with 3:42 left in the half.
But Chireno (27-10) was never able to take the lead other than a 2-0 start, despite pulling even twice in the second quarter and trailing 20-16 at the break. The Lady Owls could never find their shooting range, hitting only 21.6% (8-of-37) and dropped a 33-24 decision to Lipan (34-3) Thursday morning in the Alamodome.
Lipan, making its eighth trip to the state tournament and the first since their title year in 2016, will take its 19-game winning streak to the championship game Saturday morning, where the Lady Indians will square off with No. 1-ranked Nazareth at 8:30 a.m. Nazareth (30-8) blew past Veribest (27-11), 43-23, in the other semifinal on Thursday to win its 19th straight as well.
Chireno had to overcome a size disadvantage to the Lady Indians in their game, and struggled in the rebounding department because of it. Lipan posted 16 offensive rebounds and outscoring CHS 9-4 in second-chance points, while out rebounding the Lady Owls 38-24. The Lady Indians also outscored Chireno 16-4 in the paint.
“I feel the girls gave it all they had,” said Chireno head coach Giff Durham, who led his team to the state tournament for the first time in the history of the school, after doing the same with the school’s softball program last spring. “I knew (Lipan) was an outstanding team and I thought our defense did an outstanding job. We defensed them about as well as we could have, but they were huge. Matchup to matchup they were bigger than us.”
Despite the size disadvantage, the Lady Owls held Lipan to only 23.1% (9-of-39) from the field and a surprising 1-of-9 (11.1%) from behind the three-point arc. That was an area Durham was worried about, especially early on when Maggie Peacock used her 6-0 frame to score 11 first-half points.
“We came out playing (Peacock) one-on-one because I had watched a ton of film on them and they not only had her, but they also had some tremendous three-point shooters,” the Chireno coach said. “I’ve had teams where I sagged back inside before that had gotten beat with it in the past.
“But she was hurting us, so I switched and we had one player behind her and when the ball went inside we dropped our guard down. We took a chance on the three and they really didn’t hurt us with it.”
Peacock only scored five second-half points, but the Lady Owls couldn’t get the shots to fall after the first-half run.
“I felt good in the second quarter when we finally got that (7-0) run,” Durham said. “But we were never able to get the lead. We had several opportunities in the third and fourth quarters when they would turn the ball over or miss some shots, but we just couldn’t get the shots to fall.”
Chireno, which only turned the ball over nine times all night, while forcing 10 by the Lady Indians, also were hampered by the foul trouble of sophomore shooting guard Saylor Holloway. Holloway scored five points before the half despite playing only 10 minutes, but picked up her third foul with 2:31 left in the first half with the game tied 16-16.
She sat out until the half, then picked up her fourth foul with 3:30 remaining in the third quarter and the Lady Owls down 23-18. She didn’t return until 3:18 left in the game and fouled out 42 seconds later.
“It hurt with Holloway getting into foul trouble because she was starting to shoot the ball well in the first half,” Durham explained. “She was playing hard, but she got the fourth foul in the third quarter and had to come out again. We put her back in the game in the fourth and she fouled out soon after. She’s a huge part of our offense with her driving and shooting ability and it was tough that she was our only player that had foul trouble.”
Holloway finished the game with only five points and three rebounds and only seeing the floor for six of the 16-minute second half.
The Lady Owls, who struggled in the first quarter, scoring just four points, also had trouble putting the ball in the basket in the fourth, scoring just two, but stayed within striking distance until late with tough defense nevertheless.
“We came out in the second half with our half-court pressure and right away got a steal and made them miss a few shots and I thought we were in good shape,” Durham said. “And the girls never quit and I was proud of them for that.”
CHS cut an eight-point Lipan lead to 26-22 heading to the fourth when Jaleigh Johnson hit a 17-footer and Durrett made a shot from the baseline.
But after Nelly Vargas made two free throws at the 3:18 mark of the final period to pull the Lady Owls to within 26-24, Holloway fouled out 2:36 remaining and Chireno went scoreless in the final 3:17.
“I’m proud of these girls,” the coach said. “From top to bottom, every girl on the team has a lot of character and never quit. They kept fighting back time and time again, but the shots just wouldn’t fall.”
Vargas and Johnson each scored four points and Kacee Shaw pitched in two points.