by JASON GORDON
Hays High head coach Danny Preuss didn’t quite know what to expect from his team as it squared off against San Antonio Churchill in the first round of the Rebel Classic basketball tournament Thursday.
Churchill was the No. 18 team in Class 5A according to the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches, and the Lady Rebels were definitely the underdog heading into the game.
As has been the Hays High girls tradition over the years, however, the Hays girls didn’t seem to care who they were going up against.
Hays hung close to Churchill in the first half thanks to five Jaleasa Jones points and a Nicole Alcantara 3-pointer and trailed 23-22 at intermission.
“I told our team before the game we were playing someone ranked in the top-20 in the state in Class 5A because I wanted them to be ready for a real challenge,” Preuss said. “At halftime I said, ‘Now let’s go out and beat them.’”
That’s exactly what Hays did, as the Lady Rebels held Churchill to only 10 second-half points in a 40-33 victory.
Ashlee Johnson’s two offensive rebounds and putbacks, and excellent Hays free throw shooting down the stretch helped the Lady Rebs hold on for the victory.
“Our defense has really been our trademark all season,” Preuss said. “It’s what’s kept us in games all year and it was the key to the win against Churchill. We always know going up against a team of that caliber we have to make it difficult for them to score on every possession.”
Johnson led Hays with 10 points and 14 rebounds against Churchill.
“We were all very excited about how well we performed against Churchill,” said Johnson. “It was one of our biggest wins of the season.”
Preuss worried about a letdown in the second round of the Rebel Classic but his concerns were unwarranted as Hays pummeled San Angelo Central 60-37.
“This was our best and most complete win of the season,” Preuss said. “Everything was clicking and everybody got to play and contribute a lot.”
Johnson led Hays with 14 points, Javon Saucedo and Jones added 10 more, and Shannon Peace and Rachel Calabrese chipped in with six points apiece in the victory that sent Hays to the tournament’s semifinals.
“I was concerned we might have a letdown after such a big win over Churchill, but we have a team that tries to win every game no matter who we’re playing,” Preuss said. “That’s something I’ve learned about them and it’s a good feeling to know your team has that kind of attitude.”
Things didn’t go as well for the Lady Rebs during their final two Rebel Classic games, as poor first halves left Hays facing double-digit deficits.
In the tourney semifinals against Pflugerville Hendrickson, Hays fell behind 17-4 early in the first quarter before rallying to cut the gap to 27-20 by halftime behind Jones’ seven points.
The Lady Rebs chipped away even more in the third quarter and trailed 33-27 and had a realistic shot to complete the comeback and advance to the Rebel Classic finals.
Two short jumpers from Johnson and Jones’ 3-pointer trimmed the margin to 40-36 with three minutes to play, but Hays never scored again in a 47-36 loss in which they made less than 25-percent of their shots from the floor.
“I was proud of the run that we made against a team that made the finals of our tournament,” Preuss said. “We had some good looks in the game but we just couldn’t hit ’em.”
It might not have been snowing outside Saturday afternoon but there was ice over the Lady Rebels’ basket once again, as Hays made only one of 19 shots from the field in the first half and trailed New Braunfels High 19-6 at the break in the battle for third place.
Hays did manage its patented comeback, but fell short in a 36-29 loss and had to settle for fourth place.
Hays now moves on to District 27-4A play, where the Lady Rebs hope they will vie for the league title.
“We gained a lot of experience in our tournament against some tough teams,” Jones said. “We think we’re ready for district.”
Hays played an ultra-competitive pre-district schedule and Preuss said he thinks his team is ready for 27-4A action.
“Now we get to see if that schedule paid off, and hopefully it has,” he said. “I think we proved we can hang with anybody we’re playing, now we need to go get some wins in district.”
Hays will take on Smithson Valley this week before playing at Lehman High next Tuesday.