By Joshua Koch
HOUSTON – Before the lights were even turned on at the Merrell Center on Saturday afternoon, 17 miles away members of the Cy Ranch women’s basketball team filed into the high school.
As the team gathered, head coach Tresa Hornsby turned on the projector. The film on the screen – Cy Ranch’s 43-41 loss to Clear Springs back on December 6.
“The coaches, we watched, we watched it last night and we thought these kids need to see how we played against them in December and we’re a totally different team than we were in December,” Hornsby said. “I wanted them to see that.”
Seeing the film from their two-point loss, one of only six losses suffered by Cy Ranch this season, pumped up Hornsby’s team when they took the court hours later against No. 2 Clear Springs in the Region III-6A Finals at the Merrell Center.
Despite giving up a 13-0 run at one point and McDonald’s All-American Didi Richards sitting out a majority of the second quarter and all of the third because of foul trouble, No. 4 Cy Ranch upset No. 2 Clear Springs 59-56, earning the program’s first-ever trip to the UIL State Tournament.
“This is great,” Richards, who finished with 12 points, said. “This is (Ariana) and I’s senior year. We’re happy to leave our (imprint) here and be able to push it further.”
In the opening half, Clear Springs (32-4) utilized the talents of Sierra Cheatham, who scored 15 of her 20 points in the opening half, while a combination of Jala Buster and Ariana Whitfield for Cy Ranch provided a back and forth game in the opening.
The Lady Mustangs (31-6) would close the opening half on a 9-2 run, giving them a 39-32 halftime lead.
With Richards in foul trouble, six points and four fouls in the opening half, the Lady Mustangs were going to have to do this without her for at least the third quarter.
“I was itching to get into the game,” Richards, who could be seen providing support for her teammates from the bench, said. “I’m happy that Ariana could coach from the court and be a leader. So I’m happy she was able to do that. I’m just happy she’s my teammate.”
Richards finished with 12 points after reentering at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
At one point, Cy Ranch’s lead ballooned to a 10-point advantage, 46-36, before Clear Springs’ found the answer.
A 13-0 run, which spanned the end of the third quarter and opening of the fourth, was fueled by Audrey Wandji’s five points in that span, with four other teammates contributing before it was Clear Springs up 49-46.
This was the first lead for the Lady Chargers since the end of the first quarter when they led 16-15.
“We let them know that they were in foul trouble also,” Hornsby said. “When they went on that 13-0 run we told them you have stopped taking the ball to the basket and they’re going to foul you. So take the ball to the basket, keep doing what we’re doing and you’re going to come out on top.
“That’s what we did. We came down, we ran a couple of quick-hitters that worked for us. Knocked down some shots, hit some free throws and made it happen for us.”
The Lady Mustangs answered the call.
Down the stretch, Cy Ranch went 6 of 8 from the free throw line proving to be the difference.
Whitfield capped off her game, scoring four of Cy Ranch’s final 13 points of the game en route to a team-leading 17 points in the win.
“It’s outstanding,” Whitfield said about making it to State before running to climb the ladder and cut her piece of the net down.
Clear Springs made a push at the end leading 56-54 at one point, but falling just short in the comeback as the No. 2 Lady Chargers failed to reach the State Tournament again.
Behind Cheatham, Dymond Gladney finished with 15 points in the loss.
For Cy Ranch, along with Richards and Whitfield, Buster had a big game as well finishing with 14 points, including the final free throw, sealing the 59-56 win.
The Lady Mustangs with the win earned the program’s first trip to the State Tournament, joining Cy Woods, Cy Falls and Cy-Fair as programs from Cy-Fair ISD to make the run to state.
“It’s almost surreal because I’ve never been as a coach,” Hornsby said. “This is what our goal has been all year long. We’re not satisfied with just making it, we’re going there to win it.”