Rockwall girls beat odds, W. Mesquite to gain state berth

GARLAND — The Rockwall girls lost two top players this season, but they turned adversity into a challenge.

Instead of lamenting a lost season, the Yellowjackets just keep celebrating. On Saturday, after a 36-34 victory over West Mesquite, their voices reverberated through the locker room walls:

“Final four, final four, final four!”

After two dramatic victories at the Special Events Center, Rockwall is headed to its third final four since 2006 and fourth overall. The Yellowjackets lost to Plano West in the 2006 final and then won the state championship in 2007.

Rockwall started the season by losing Hannah Hughes, The News’ Newcomer of the Year in 2011, to a season-ending knee injury. Then they lost senior Mary Hinton.

“We could have said, ‘Well, this year’s not going to be anything,’” coach Jill McDill said. “Instead, these girls said, ‘We’re going to make it a great story and we’re going to do it for them and the seniors.’ That is a huge testament to their fight and their drive. They just want to stick together as long as they can.”

Rockwall controlled West Mesquite, taking a 23-11 halftime lead. But the Wranglers began forcing turnovers and creating fast-break chances. An 8-2 spurt from the start of the fourth quarter cut Rockwall’s lead to 33-29 with 1:29 left.

A 3-pointer by Claudia Price and a driving layup by Sha’Georgia Williams after Rockwall’s Morghen Day’s backdoor cut, made it 35-34 with 33 seconds to go.

The Yellowjackets worked the ball around, trying to run out the clock, but Alyssa Lang was fouled with seven seconds left. She made the first of two free throws. Price rebounded, but with no timeouts left, she dribbled the length of the floor and then lost the ball as she tried to create a 3-point chance.

“We wanted to keep the score under 40, because their losses have been low-scoring games,” Wranglers coach Darrin Samuels said. “We had the ball with a chance to win at the end of the game but just ran out of time.”

Lang and Paige Turner led the Yellowjackets with 10 points apiece, and freshman Sara Williamson added seven points.

Williams led the Wranglers with 16 points, and Price, who battled underneath with Lang all day, scored 10.

The Yellowjackets began stalling midway through the fourth quarter, but West Mesquite’s traps forced turnovers. For Rockwall, defense was the key, as it has been all season.

“We weren’t trying to slow it down,” McDill said.

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