GAINESVILLE — Just a minute or so before coming out of the game, since Bells was comfortably ahead by 20 points, Katie Branam stepped to the free-throw line and made both of her attempts.
The last point didn’t have any bearing on the outcome but it was a milestone that no one knew about at the time.
Branam and Kinley Ives each finished with 20 points and C.J. Crane added nine points as the Lady Panthers defeated Poolville, 52-34, in a Class 2A Region II bi-district contest on Tuesday night.
Bells (28-4) will face Archer City (17-9) in the area round later this week.
The trio combined to score all of the Lady Panthers’ first-half points and only Hannah Ponder’s basket with 5:26 left in the third quarter and a free throw two minutes later was the scoring production from the rest of the roster.
Branam’s final free throw turned out to be the 2,000th point of her illustrious career, even though she nor her mother knew when the mass substitution took place.
“That’s part of the team chemistry. They don’t care who scores as long as they win,” head coach Karri Branam said. “Being a decoy is just as important as the person who scores.”
There have been many points scored by Branam over the course of her career, including the past two seasons when Bells fell one win short of the state tournament each time against nemesis Martin’s Mill. This was the first step towards a final opportunity to break through.
“Our ultimate goal is to go to San Antonio,” Karri Branam said. “We can’t take anything for granted. We have to be mentally prepared for every game.”
The turning point against Poolville came in the final half of the second quarter.
“Our game plan was to go up-tempo and provide a lot of intensity. I feel like we did that for the most part,” Karri Branam said. “They can shoot well from the outside if they were left open and we focused on that.”
Trinity Johnson had 15 points and Ryan Jennings added 10 points for the Lady Monarchs, who quickly fell behind 7-2 and then were down by double-digits. Branam had back-to-back baskets around lay-ups from Crane and Ives to boost that lead before Johnson made a three-pointer as the first quarter expired.
Poolville was down just seven at the point, despite eight turnovers, and used two straight baskets from Jennings and Kallee Cumbie to trim the deficit to four points with 5:30 left in the half.
Bells clamped down defensively and held the Lady Monarchs scoreless the rest of the quarter, closing on a 13-0 run to take a 32-15 lead into the break.
Ives made a three-pointer from the top of the key and then Crane scored on a putback with six seconds remaining.
“We went on a run there when we needed to,” Karri Branam said.
Jennings made a three-pointer at the start of the third quarter but Poolville never seriously threatened to even cut the margin to single digits. The lead almost got to 20 points by the end of the third quarter and officially crossed that barrier a few minutes into the fourth on free throws by Branam.
Poolville was almost held under 30 points as the Lady Monarchs hit only one shot through the first five minutes of the final frame.