LUBBOCK– With a packed house exceeding 1,600 spectators Friday night, the Lubbock Monterey gym felt as if it could have been hosting a third-round playoff game, or something even bigger.
As it was, the Amarillo High Lady Sandies weren’t even visiting Monterey for a district game. It was to determine who the top Class 5A team in the state instead.
For the second time in four days, No. 2 Amarillo High headed to Lubbock to play a top five team, only this time, it was the top team, and the rankings showed. No. 1 Monterey took the lead in the third quarter and held on, defeating the Lady Sandies 63-54 in what might have been the state’s featured matchup of the year thus far.
It was a split of a challenging week for Amarillo High (15-2), who on Tuesday night headed south and routed No. 5 Lubbock Cooper 75-43. Friday’s game was far more challenging, and while the Lady Sandies wound up on the losing end, they showed that they’ve earned their lofty status.
“We schedule as hard as we can,” said AHS coach Jeff Williams, who’s made that approach work over the past five years with two state championships and a state semifinal appearance. “We schedule as many good basketball teams as we can. We got the No. 1 5A basketball team in the state at their place and went toe-to-toe with them. What I take from it is that we’ve got room for improvement, which we knew already but we’ve got competitive kids who’ll fight to the very, very end.”
If the two teams win their respective districts, they would meet again in the region quarterfinal in February. That’s a ways off, but a definite possibility.
The first half was as good could be as far as performance matching hype. It was tied at 13 at the end of the first quarter and at 24 at halftime, as neither team led by more than three points.
As would be expected in such a high-profile game, the big guns for both teams showed up and carried their teams in the first half. Amarillo High’s Mckenzie Smith and Monterey’s Aaliyah Chavez were both as good as advertised.
Smith, one of four returning starters from last year’s state semifinalists, kept the Lady Sandies afloat by scoring both inside and outside, had half of her team’s total with 12 points. She was just as consistent in the second half as she led Amarillo High with 24 points.
“With us knowing that that they’re No. 1 and we’re No. 2, it was going to be hectic,” Smith said. “In the second half they went on that run. They kept knocking down shots and we didn’t finish as much.”
Chavez, a much-hyped sophomore who’s considered one of the nation’s top underclassmen, had 16 points. She singlehandedly kept the Lady Plainsmen (13-2) in the game by scoring all 11 of their points in the second quarter and finished with a game-high 26.
Amarillo High led briefly at the start of the third quarter, but after the Lady Plainsmen took the lead, they never looked back. They hit six 3-pointers in the third quarter, the last by Chavez to give them their biggest lead of the game, 49-36.
The Lady Sandies got no closer than six points the rest of the way. Aside from Smith, there were no other double-digit scorers for Amarillo High, as Taytum Bell had nine.
“We’ll be much deeper,” said Williams, who used only seven players against Monterey. “We didn’t go as deep tonight and honestly neither did (Monterey). That’s kind of how it is in a game of this magnitude. We put the kids out there we felt gave us the best chance to win tonight.”
Monterey’s subs didn’t see any more minutes than Amarillo High’s, but the difference was that Chavez got some help. Freshman Ambrosia Cole had 18 points for the Lady Plainsmen.
Both teams were accurate from deep, as Monterey hit 11 3-pointers and Amarillo High had 10.
“I fully expected this,” Monterey coach Jill Schneider said. “My son sent me a text today saying, ‘I hope you whomp em.’ I said, ‘Let’s don’t go there.’ How about we settle for a one-point win? If we hadn’t opened it up there in the third quarter that’s what it would have been.”
It was a memorable enough evening as it was between two top tier teams who could very well meet again. That could be something helping both teams down the road.
“The fantastic thing about this is women’s basketball’s a fun game to watch and all these folks were here to watch out two teams play, and I couldn’t be prouder of that opportunity,” Williams said. “This atmosphere’s not like this if you haven’t done what we’ve done over the last decade. We hope to get an opportunity to see (Monterey) again. We’re going to have to get through them at some point.”
Amarillo High 13 24 39 54
Lub. Monterey 13 24 49 63
AHS– McKenzie Smith 24, Taytum Bell 9. LM– Aaliyah Chavez 26, Ambrosia Cole 18. Records: Amarillo High 15-2, Monterey 13-2.