By BRAD KEITH
(February 12, 2018) — Marissa Warren scored 27 points, lifting Hico to its 27th consecutive victory to open the Region II-2A playoffs Monday evening.
The bulk of the remaining Hico points were poured in by the Polk sisters as Sydney racked up 18 and Shelby added 10 in a 68-38 bi-district playoff victory over Petrolia.
Those not in attendance would never know it, but fans were actually brought to the edge of the seats with the anxiety mounting inside the Breckenridge High School Gym when Petrolia climbed almost entirely out of a big early hole. A wide early margin was quickly trimmed to single digits, but Hico pushed aside some of the concerns by inching its lead back to 13 at halftime.
That’s when head coach Brad Stegall decided to ditch a passive zone defense and employ the driving force behind the Lady Tigers’ magical 30-win regular season.
Out came the half-court “havoc” with two defenders trapping the ball all over the front court. Like everyone else Hico has played since its only loss back in the fifth game of the season, Petrolia struggled and havoc indeed prevailed.
A seven-point advantage in the third sent the Lady Tigers to the fourth holding a comfortable 20-point spread. A 19-9 margin turned it into a rout in the final stanza, and sends Hico on to an area-round playoff, most likely against Era at Aledo High School. Era is heavily favored in its Tuesdasy bi-district match-up with Bealls.
Hico foul trouble played a significant factor in Petrolia hanging around until just before halftime. Before intermission arrived four Lady Tigers – standout Lauryl Stegall, both the Polk sisters and post Christina Cruz had all been whistled for three fouls, forcing Coach Stegall to reach deep into his bench and in for her first sending a junior varsity star out for her first varsity action.
“I put Leilania Gorospe out there and she was just fantastic for us,” the coach said. “She did more than just eat up a few minutes. In fact, she scored six points before halftime. I know that’s exciting for her and I’m proud of her for stepping up and delivering when we needed her to.
Petrolia is a familiar first round of opponent for Hico, and there is not an easy out remaining ahead if Region II-2A plays out as expected.
Era as lost only three times this season, and Windthorst, a likely regional quarterfinal opponent,has only one loss and has feasted off Hico in the same round the last couple seasons. Get through all that and next up is a regional tournament where one of the four contenders will almost certainly be another one-loss team – No. 1 Martin’s Mill.
“We took care of one, and that’s good, but now the fun really begins,” said Coach Stegall. “It’s going to be a war every night.”