It was about as appropriate and symbolic an ending as the Amarillo High Lady Sandies could have had to their 2023-24 home season Friday night.
Against their crosstown rival Tascosa in their final District 3-5A home game of the season with a chance to clinch a district championship, the Lady Sandies didn’t disappoint. While they never really pulled away for a rout, they were in control the entire time in cruising to a 65-50 victory which was as prototypical a snapshot as could be provided for Amarillo High girls basketball.
No. 3 Amarillo High (31-4, 7-0 in district) is now one win away from a perfect district season, having already arrived at 3-5A’s No. 1 playoff seed. Beating rival Tascosa (23-6, 6-2), ranked No. 24 in the state, to get the gold ball on the final home game for the seniors, only made the night that much more special.
“It was not easy by any stretch of the imagination,” AHS coach Jeff WIlliams said. “That was a hard-fought win for us tonight. I was proud of our girls. We didn’t own the boards by any means, but we held our own better than we’ve done against them and that’s important.”
While the final score is indicative of the Lady Sandies being in control throughout the game, their biggest lead was a 17-point advantage late in the fourth quarter. More importantly, Amarillo High never trailed.
The first half was generally competitive, but Amarillo High was in command. While the Lady Sandies never ran away, they led by as many as 12 in leading 39-30 at the half.
It was no surprise that the usual suspects came up big in the first half for the Lady Sandies, as senior Taytum Bell had 11 points and junior Bella Edwards had 10. But unlike the first meeting between the two teams, where the starters accounted for all the points for both teams as the Lady Sandies held on for a 50-48 win, Amarillo High got some help from the bench.
Sophomore, Kensleigh Payne, who didn’t play a minute in the first meeting, came off the bench to score six points and provide some rebounding for the Lady Sandies while subbing for Kirbi Simpson, who sat down with two fouls. Amarillo High played most of the second quarter without starting point guard Jada Graves, who drew two early fouls.
“Just to come in and do what she did was amazing,” WIlliams said of Payne. “Kirbi got into some foul trouble and I said to the coaching staff if we get into foul trouble with either Taytum or Kirbi we’re going with Kensleigh. I didn’t have to take her out and what a great performance by her.”
That was the difference between the two teams the second time around. Payne led an effort which gave the Sandies 12 points off the bench, but for the second straight meeting between the two teams, Tascosa didn’t get a single point off the bench.
Aniyah Brackens led Tascosa with 16 points, 10 of them in the first quarter. Avery Carter scored 12, but the Lady Rebels struggled scoring outside the paint.
“I don’t think offensively what we did was necessarily the problem,” Tascosa coach Chris Sumrall said. “I think defensively (the Lady Sandies) did a lot of the same things they did the first time, but a little bit better. They were slipping it and we weren’t there on the slips.”
Amarillo High was far more balanced offensively, with eight players making the scoring column. Bell, in her final home game, led the Lady Sandies with 16 points while Edwards scored 15 and fellow junior Ca’Nia Mitchell added 14.
It was a particularly special night for Bell, a three-year starter who as a sophomore started for the Amarillo High team which reached the state semifinals.
“We knew how tough Tascosa is,” said Bell, who also scored the go-ahead basket in Amarillo High’s first win of the season over the Lady Rebels. “They always play hard against us and everyone played for us seniors tonight. Ca’Nia and Bella played for us in our last home game and that’s really sad. I would say we connect really well and this team has connected all year.”
Tascosa 15 30 42 50
Amarillo High 22 39 53 65
T– Aniyah Brackens 16, Avery Carter 12. AHS– Taytum Bell 16, Bella Edwards 15, Ca’Nia Mitchell 14. Records: Tascosa 23-6, 6-2; Amarillo High 31-4, 7-0.