By BRAD KEITH
(January 4, 2017) — The red in Hico’s uniforms should serve as a warning to opponents.
Or perhaps they should just go ahead and scribble F-I-R-E across them in big red letters.
But for all Hico has done – and it’s a lot – they could see everything down to their spot as the favorite in their district go away on Friday when Hamilton makes the short trip north for a key league game, which tips off at 6 p.m. or shortly after.
Or the Lady Tigers can take care of business against their county rivals, which will no doubt be hungrier than just about anyone else to send the Lady Tigers stumbling from their throne atop all local rivals.
Hico has won 21 straight and has soared all the way to No. 4 in Conference 2A according to the Texas Girls Coaches Association. The Lady Tigers are ranked sixth by Maxpreps and seventh by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches.
Of course, No. 1 Martin’s Mill is in their region and so is No. 5 Windthorst.
“And only one of us can get to the regional final,” says Hico head coach Brad Stegall. “If we come out first from our district they will be our third and fourth-round opponents (in the playoffs).”
That’s assuming a lot over more than a month of basketball, but he’s right that it is the most likely scenario. Martin’s Mill has been near the top of state polls before, and Stegall says it is his understanding from some coaching friends, that yes, they deserve to be there.
Windthorst is also a mainstay in the top tier of 2A girls basketball, and Hico has begun swimming in such waters more frequently since Stegall has been in charge.
Hamilton, of course, hopes to drown Hico in those waters. The Bulldogs are 3-0 in district, just a half game behind the Lady Tigers. They are the only unbeatens in league play.
“They just play good, solid basketball, just what you would expect from a Coach Heers team,” said Stegall. “You know they’re going to be on their best for us regardless what the rankings say because it’s Hamilton and Hico. I expect it to be a dogfight all the way whether we’re ahead by 20 or down by 20.”
The latter would require a monumental performance by Hamilton as Hico is fresh off a championship in Eula’s tournament and an easy road win over Ranger, still outscoring opponents by about 30 points per game, and still don’t allow 30 points on average.
“Hamilton’s going to get after us, they’re going to want to be the ones who can say they came in to our gym and ended our winning streak and all that,” Stegall said. “But our girls want to win a district title and keep getting better as we move toward the playoffs, so it isn’t like we aren’t just as motivated.”
Or at least as talented.
No one has been able to slow Marissa Warren and Lauryl Stegall, and Shelby Polk is a formidable third weapon that leaves most opponents cornered and left to pick their poison.
“If we play our game, and I think we will continue to do so because this is a great group of girls with discipline and consistency, then we’re going to be a tough out,” Stegall said.
A tough out in the playoffs, and in district games.
Regardless how bad a county rival may want it.