The Gruver Lady Hounds were presented a challenge from an up-and-coming Hearne squad but were able to lock the Lady Eagles down during the final stretch of the fourth quarter to pull away for a 45-32 victory in the University Interscholastic League Class 2A state semifinal on Friday morning at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Gruver (30-5) is on quite the roll pushing its overall win streak to 16 straight games, and its postseason win streak to 13 straight. The Lady Hounds have now given themselves a chance to defend their crown for a second consecutive season, as well as going for the programs third state title in the last four years when Gruver battles Lipan (34-3) at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. The Lady Indians won a thriller over Martin’s Mill in their respective semifinal, 32-31, on Friday.
“It’s definitely a blessing to get back to the state championship game,” Gruver head coach Trent Lankford said. “Being successful continuously is hard and takes a lot. So, to get back here I couldn’t be prouder especially with what we lost last year.”
Gruver didn’t execute well on offense the entire way shooting 28.9 percent from the floor, 16.7 percent (3-of-18) from beyond the arc and only 57.7 percent at the line. Though the shots weren’t falling the Lady Hounds trailed only twice in the contest and took the lead for good at the 2:43 mark of the second quarter on a Kimber Whitehead Jumper. With the offense struggling, Lankford turned to his team’s defense to get the job done. Gruver forced Hearne into 18 turnovers resulting in 18 Lady Hound points.
“This was one of those games that where coach Lankford tells us the offense may not travel with you, but your defense will,” Gruver senior Allie Sparks said. “The shots weren’t falling so we had to focus on the defensive end and getting stops.”
Gruver took a 25-20 lead into halftime and by the end of third quarter were up 32-25.
The Lady Eagles didn’t go away. Hearne trailed by as many as 10 in the third but cut that deficit quickly to five at the beginning of the fourth quarter. That’s where again the Lady Hound defense focused in holding Hearne scoreless for the final 4:17 as Gruver ended the game on an 8-0 run to run away with a 13-point victory.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Lankford said. “We’ll need to play better against Lipan for sure. We needed to knock down a few more shots. We need be better at the free-throw line, but I’m proud of the effort we gave, and I know against Lipan that we will give our very best. We just have to play with no fear like I tell them and never be afraid of the big moment. I thought the second half we played a lot better.”
Senior point guard Brenna Butler scored a team-high 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting, adding three steals. Whitehead had 11 points with three steals, and Sparks added 10 going 6-of-10 from the charity stripe. Hearne’s Antinajah Jackson poured in a team-high 13.
Hearne 10 20 25 32
Gruver 11 25 32 45
H- Antinajah Jackson 13, Ciarrah Golden 7. G- Brenna Butler 13, Kimber Whitehead 11, Allie Sparks 10. Records: Hearne 33-9; Gruver 30-5.