BANGS — Leading by 14 points in the third period and as many as 15 points in the first half, the Brownwood Lady Lions appeared on the verge of cruising to their third victory of the season.
But a furious second-half charge by the Bangs Lady Dragons, coupled with a knee injury that removed Lady Lion starting point guard Ashley Vaccaro from the contest, left Brownwood thrilled to escape with a 45-43 win Tuesday night.
“It was tough because I knew Ashley was hurting and she wasn’t going to play in the second half, but I’m proud of the other girls for stepping up,” said Lady Lions head coach Heather Hohertz.
Bangs reduced the Lady Lions’ lead to one point twice in the fourth period, the final time coming at 41-40 with 1:26 remaining.
The Lady Lions answered with four clutch free throws down the stretch — two by Cherita George with 39 seconds left and two by Kacie New with 11 seconds remaining — to stretch the lead to 45-40.
Bangs’ Charly Lipsey converted a three-pointer as time expired for the final two-point margin. The Lady Dragons, however, had a chance to pull even at 43 with 20 seconds left but missed a three-point attempt, which was rebounded by Keeta Vaccaro.
“We’re a really young team and we make some dumb mistakes, but they never gave up and that’s why the game went the way it went,” said Bangs first-year head coach Niki Holt. “We have to knock down more shots for the game to go the way we want it to.”
Keeta Vaccaro posted a game-high 22 points to lead the way for the Lady Lions trailed by seven points from Ashley Vaccaro, six each from New and George and two points apiece from Victoria Henry and Unique Jefferson.
For Bangs, Rikki Loman finished with a team-high 13 points followed by 10 from Lipsey, six each from Rachael Willard and Kylie Allen, five from Kady Kyle, two points from Kinsie Ward and one from Raelee Francois.
Trailing 5-4 midway through the first period, the Lady Lions responded with 19 of the next 22 points to open a 23-8 advantage with 3:38 left before halftime.
Bangs caught a second wind, however, and finished with nine of the final 13 points to close the gap to 27-17 at halftime.
Following a bucket by New with 3:17 left in the third period, the Lady Lions’ lead stood at 14 points, 33-19.
The Lady Dragons then began to mount their comeback, reducing the deficit to 32-28 by the end of the third quarter.
Brownwood nursed a 39-34 lead with 3:58 to go, but Bangs received buckets from Loman and Lipsey to close to within 39-38 with 3:07 left.
Brownwood answered with a deuce from Keeta Vaccaro with 2:26 to go, regaining a three-point cushion.
Bangs again closed to within one at 41-40 when Loman scored following an offensive rebound, but the Lady Lions held on late.
“We have to get in better shape so we can play for four quarters and finish,” Hohertz said. “Overall it was a good effort, but we have to keep getting better.”
Added Holt, “Our biggest improvement was that we only had 17 turnovers when we’ve been averaging about 30 a game. That’s fantastic, especially when you’re playing a team that puts so much pressure on you. But we still have to learn how to shoot the ball under intense pressure.’
The Lady Lions will host Class 2A state power Jim Ned at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, while the Lady Dragons welcome Merkel at the same time.