By BRAD KEITH
BRECKENRIDGE – Survive and advance. Check, and check.
Stephenville (21-10) survived a wild game of big runs against Vernon Tuesday evening, first losing a 13-point lead then overcoming a 10-point deficit over the final seven minutes to eliminate the Lady Lions 57-56 in a 4A Region I bi-district thriller at Breckenridge High School.
That was the survival part. As for advancement, the Bees face 8-4A champ Decatur at 6 p.m. Thursday at Brock High School. The area-round playoff will be followed immediately by a warmup game between the Stephenville and Decatur boys.
Bayleigh Chaviers grabbed an offensive rebound and knocked down a short baseline jumper to give the Honeybees the last lead of the game with 13.86 seconds remaining.
After a tense timeout, in which Stephenville head coach Alan Thorpe was pleading for a soft full-court defense with no fouls after Vernon hit all 15 of its free throw attempts, Cassidy Cline ended all doubt herself.
The senior guard stepped in front of the Vernon inbound pass, stealing the ball then sprinting for open space, avoiding being fouled as precious seconds slipped away. She finally gave up the ball, first to Breanna Wooley then to Lyndi Graham, who was fouled with only 92 hundredths of a second remaining.
“We just knew we had to play smart defense, no fouls and believe in ourselves,” said Cline of the plan coming out of the timeout. Of course, once she grabbed the ball, her thoughts changed immediately. “I just knew I couldn’t let them catch me, we had to waste time and run the clock out.”
Graham missed the free throw, and though Vernon grabbed the rebound, its last-second heave barely reached the top of the arc at the other end and Stephenville celebrated its sixth straight bi-district playoff win.
“I’m excited and confident in my team,” said Cline. “I love every one of my teammates and I believe we can go far.”
Stephenville trailed 44-34 after a put back by Vernon’s Jaylan Thomas with 7:16 remaining, but that’s when the Honeybees took over.
Cline, who led Stephenville with 16 points including nine in the fourth, drove and hit a runner before Chaviers, who scored seven of her 11 in the fourth, got a steal then rebounded her own miss and put it in to cut it to 44-38.
Vernon led 48-40 before Chaviers hit her only 3-pointer of the night, and after Cline stole the ball and hit two free throws, the margin was three with 4:54 still to play.
Manijah Youngberg made it 50-45 with a basket in the paint. She led Vernon with 17 points, but fouled out on an offensive player control foul with 3:52 left.
Cline collected a steal and immediately fired an assist to Mikayla Hobbs for a layup and a 50-47 deficit with 4:07 remaining, and Youngberg fouled out on Vernon’s ensuing possession. Hobbs had all of her eight points after intermission.
Graham, who scored nine, grabbed another Stephenville steal that led to a 3-pointer by Kali Smith, and the game was tied at 50-50.
Vernon recaptured the lead on a basket in the paint by Thomas, but Cline took an assist from Wooley and buried another key 3-pointer for a 53-52 Stephenville lead with 1:34 left.
The teams then exchanged free throws, Thomas hitting four for Vernon around two by Stephenville’s Smith, leaving the Lady Lions on top 56-55 with 30.81 seconds on the clock.
Stephenville took its time, missed a 3-pointer and Chaviers got the rebound before hitting the second-chance basket that finished the scoring.
Smith had eight, five of them in the fourth, Wooley scored three with a 3-pointer to begin the game and Bethanie Bouchey had two on a pair of first-quarter free throws.
The first quarter was when everything went Stephenville’s way, particularly the opening five minutes.
The Honeybees began the game with intense full-court pressure that Vernon didn’t appear to have any answer for. The Lady Lions had seven quick turnovers, and Stephenville led 15-2 following Graham’s basket in the paint with 3:25 left in the opening stanza.
It was 19-8 after the first, and the Bees still appeared in control when a Chaviers layup made it 28-15 just before the three-minute mark of the second.
Then, everything changed.
Youngberg scored seven points during a run of 11 straight by Vernon to cut it to 28-26 by halftime.
The first half may have been over, but Vernon’s run was just beginning.
The Lady Lions kept scoring – and Stephenville kept missing outside shots against their zone defense – and finally Youngberg gave Vernon its first lead, 30-28, with 5:45 left in the third. The Lady Lions made it 19 straight points and a four-point lead before Hobbs hit a right elbow jumper for Stephenville.
“We got that big nice lead, then we just relaxed,” said Thorpe. “We’re in the playoffs, we can’t relax.”
Ultimately, the Vernon run swelled to 27-4, with a 16-4 third-quarter advantage on the back of the 11 straight points to end the first half. Stephenville trailed 42-32 entering the fourth.
“We had intensity, it just wasn’t smart intensity. We were playing hard, we just weren’t playing smart. The turnovers came easy early, so we started going after everything. When we weren’t getting the ball, it was leaving us in a bad spot defensively because they had numbers.
“We finally started playing smart again in the fourth quarter,” he added. “We started going after just the balls we could get, and when we got them we took advantage.”
Joining Youngberg in double figures for Vernon was Jaylan Thomas with 14, including 10 in the second half, and Jacee Lovell with 10, eight of them after intermission.