MINERAL WELLS — Speed and quickness had set the Brownwood Lady Lions apart from the majority of their competition during the 2013-14 campaign, but the Wichita Falls Lady Huskies equaled them in that aspect Friday night.
So the No. 25 Lady Lions instead relied on grit and determination as Brownwood advanced to the third round of the playoffs for the first time in program history thanks to a 67-56 victory over Hirschi in Region I-3A area playoff action.
“It was a battle and our girls showed up to battle,” said Lady Lions head coach Heather Hohertz, who has guided Brownwood to the playoffs in all five of her seasons. “There’s not another team I would want to be on the floor for me, and they just flat out got it done offensively and defensively. They played their guts out. Hats off to them.”
The Lady Lions (24-6) will face Stephenville at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Region I-3A quarterfinal round — a rematch of one of Brownwood’s rare losses this season.
Friday night, however, was a time of celebration.
“This is awesome. We worked hard for this, played as a team and we deserve this,” said reigning District 8-3A MVP Keeta Vaccaro, who has been a member of the varsity roster all four years of high school.
Vaccaro scored a game-high 24 points for the Lady Lions, trailed by 18 from Trejouir Wilson, 10 from Ashley Vaccaro, eight from Alyson Finnigan, six from Unique Jefferson and one point from Sarah Fox.
Generating 51 points per game through their first 26 contests, the Lady Lions have averaged 72 points per outing during the last four.
“One of our downfalls in the past is we just couldn’t score,” Hohertz said. “Our defense was always there, but we couldn’t score. This year they find a way to get buckets or get to the free throw line. Tonight we had three people in double figures and another a bucket away.”
Hirschi (13-13), which split the District 5-3A title with Burkburnett, received 21 points from Nia Lewis, 13 from Asia Gates and nine points from Jaelen Polk.
Brownwood never trailed in the game, but was unable to distance itself until midway through the fourth period. In a battle of punch-counterpunch, the Lady Lions delivered the knockout blow midway through the fourth period.
The Lady Lions were in front 16-10 after one quarter and 33-30 at halftime, but Hirschi drew even at 39 on a three-pointer by Lewis with 4:16 left in the third period. Ashley Vaccaro responded with her own trey to help Brownwood carry a 46-44 edge to the fourth period.
“I told them they had 10 times more heart than (Hirschi) did and that they’ve conditioned since August for this. It’s yours, go get it,” Hohertz said in regard to her comments to the Lady Lions prior to the start of the final quarter.
Finnigan opened the fourth by draining a three-pointer to push the lead to five, only to witness Lewis answer again and make the score 49-47 with 7:10 remaining.
The Lady Lions, who recorded 19 steals, reeled off three in succession which resulted in six points as Brownwood established some breathing room, 55-47, with 5:43 left. Wilson tallied four points during the spurt while Keeta Vaccaro added the other two.
Hirschi got no closer than six points the remainder of the way as Brownwood gradually extended its lead at the free throw line. Though the Lady Lions were only 19 of 34 from the charity stripe, Brownwood sank 8 of its last 10 free throws in crunch time.
“We knew all week that Hirschi was going to be an athletic, talented team that was going to give us as much as we could handle,” Hohertz said. “We prepared that way and even brought in some of the guys to go against us so we could face some length and athleticism. We knew it was going to be tough, but they battled and battled and eventually won the battle.”