Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: Star scorer's foul trouble can't keep Rockwall girls from state final berth
AUSTIN — After painful endings the last two seasons, Rockwall players have talked all season about how “close doesn’t count.” Adding in the average margin of their last two season-ending losses, the Yellowjackets came up with the motto “CDC 3.5.”
But after Thursday’s 48-35 win over Victoria East in the Class 4A state semifinals at the Frank Erwin Center, Rockwall can have a new motto:
Just one more win, no matter how close, and Rockwall will have a 4A state title to go with its 5A title from five years ago. Rockwall (34-7) plays Mansfield Summit (36-3) for the championship on Saturday.
“We’ve only had one goal all year,” senior guard Kayla Smith said, “to be one team together and win state.”
They needed to be one team together against Victoria East (40-3), which never led but trailed by only six points when Rockwall star center Alyssa Lang fouled out with 4:28 left. Rockwall then had to hang on against Victoria East, which had beaten the Yellowjackets in a College Station tournament in December.
Rockwall did better than just hang on. It expanded the lead by staying tough on defense, hitting the boards hard and being smart on offense. During one possession, Rockwall passed the ball around for more than a minute before Paige Turner drove to the basket and was fouled. Turner, who led Rockwall with 18 points, made both free throws to push the lead to 42-34 with 2:06 left.
Kayla Smith later made four straight free throws to extend the lead to 11. Rockwall made only 9 of its first 18 free throws but then made its final 10 to ice the game.
“All year, these girls have found a way to win,” Rockwall coach Jill McDill said. “I told them that tonight they found another way to win.”
Rockwall has counted on Lang, a Rice signee, for four years. She doesn’t foul out a lot, but the physical play got her in foul trouble. She still managed to score nine points and grab a team-high 12 rebounds in only 21 minutes.
Victoria East’s pressure defense affected Rockwall’s offense early and the game stayed tight until midway through the second quarter. Rockwall scored the final seven points of the half to take a 25-17 lead, but play got so physical that Lang and Victoria East’s Kendall Carter were assessed a double foul while battling for position in the post.
That foul loomed large later, but Lang’s teammates came through. After the 6-1 senior fouled out, Rockwall outscored Victoria East, 8-1. With less than a minute remaining, Lang had tears in her eyes as she watched the Yellowjackets clinch a spot in the championship.
“It was the longest four minutes of my life sitting there. I just wanted to be out there,” she said. “I’m so proud of my teammates. They came through. They fought really hard.”