It looks as if those tough games the Nazareth Swiftettes experienced heading into the UIL Class 1A state tournament paid off Thursday morning.
And now, they’re one win away from a 25th state championship.
For three quarters of their state semifinal against Neches at San Antonio’s Alamodome, the Swiftettes were locked in a tight game, where neither team led by more than five points at any time. Nazareth then scored 10 straight points early in the fourth quarter to seize control of the game for good and cruise to a 59-48 victory, putting the Swiftettes in the state championship game for the ninth time in 10 years.
That will be Saturday at 8:30 a.m., when Nazareth (30-9) takes on Huckabay for the state title. Huckabay beat Irion County 47-35 in Thursday’s first semifinal to open the state tournament.
If Nazareth earns the 25th state title in girls history, it might be the most hard-earned. Huckabay entered the state tourney ranked No. 1 in the state and Neches (32-3) was No. 2.
“Today (assistant) coach (Whitney) Bryan and I will start watching Huckabay and start coming up with something,” Nazareth head coach Eric Schilling said. “Hopefully, we’ll stay off our feet a little bit and rest. We’ll go eat good and tomorrow morning we’ll have a good workout and focus on what we need to do. We’ll be the most prepared team when it comes to Saturday morning.”
After winning their final three games by a total of 11 points going into Thursday morning, the Swiftettes seemed perfectly prepared for the state tournament. Neches did too and led 23-18 late in the first half. However, Nazareth’s Brooklyn Dyer hit a 3-pointer just before the half expired to cut the lead to 23-21.
While Nazareth is definitely a small town, there was a decided Brooklyn accent to the Swiftettes in the win.
Sophomore Brooklyn Birkenfeld ended the first quarter by scoring six straight points, the last two of which were a tip-in to give the Swiftettes a 41-39 lead at the end of the quarter. They led the rest of the way.
Birkenfeld came off the bench to score a game-high 19 points.
However, it was a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter which ultimately decided it. Senior Caroline Myrick closed the run with a 3-pointer to make it 53-42 with 3:27 left, and Neches never got closer than seven points after that.
“Brooklyn Dyer had four threes, just big-time shots, and Caroline I think that was just the third three she’s hit all year,” Schilling said. “That’s a senior right there. Just stepping up to hit a big shot in a moment like that was huge. I thought we rebounded a lot better in the second half which was key.”
Dyer, who was subbing for injured point guard Harley Gerber, had 14 points.
Nazareth 8 21 41 59
Neches 9 23 39 48
Naz– Brooklyn Birkenfeld 19, Brooklyn Dyer 14. Neches– Joely Jenkins 17, Sealy Hines 13, Aubrey Kincade 11. Records: Nazareth 30-9, Neches 32-3.