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Photo by VYPE Media's Bradley Collier.
The state's top ranked UIL 6A team is still alive for the season's ultimate prize. Duncanville outscored defending classification state champ Converse Judson in three of the four quarters of Friday's 45-36 UIL 6A state semifinal win at San Antonio's Alamodome.
Deja Kelly led the way with a team-high 13 points, but Hope LeMelle's nine points and Zaria Rufus' six-point and 10-rebound performance also extended the Pantherettes' 26th UIL state final four appearance.
"Absolutely [a] total team effort tonight," said Duncanville coach LaJeanna Howard. "Being that we're here at the state tournament, a couple of the girls were eyes wide, so we had to get scoring from everybody [and] we had to take a collective effort on defense."
Coach Howard understood the importance of playing Converse Judson before her team battles Cypress Creek in Saturday's UIL 6A state championship game. Duncanville got tested by Kierra Sanderlin, but also proved that it can slow down a top tier player. The Pantherettes limited her to 18 points on Friday after she scored 30 in her team's regional final win. Now, their defense turns its attention to Cypress Creek's Kyndall Hunter, who scored 31 in the classification's other state semifinal.
"They had a player," said Howard. "When you get an opportunity to play against a team that has a player, and then this next team has a player, you're able to prepare more for that player. You can make adjustments over night and say this is how you guard that girl."
Howard is now a victory away from winning Duncanville a state championship from three different roles. She has previously been a player and an assistant coach during two of the program's state championship seasons and could contribute another from the head coaching position.
"It means everything," said Howard. "To be able to have such a rich tradition...and have my hand on it at every level and to [possibly] bring this back to our city...would be amazing."
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Just over a year ago, one of the most thrilling UIL girls basketball playoff games occurred on February 19th, 2019. Converse Judson ultimately leaned on Elena Blanding's game-winning shot to knock off Westlake 43-41 in the UIL 6A Region IV Quarterfinal at San Marcos High School. That turned into a signature moment in the program's state championship season.
On Saturday, the Rockets pulled out another thriller against Westlake to advance to their fourth straight UIL state final four. This time, they leaned on VYPE Player of the Game Kierra Sanderlin to erase a late 10-point deficit and win the 2020 UIL 6A Region IV final 50-47 at North East ISD's Jimmy Littleton Gymnasium. She nailed 11 free throws in a 19-point fourth quarter and finished with a game-high 30 points.
"We knew Westlake was going to jump on us quick," said Sanderlin. "We just knew it was a game of runs. So, whether they punched us, we're going to punch back and execute."
VYPE Player of the Game Kierra Sanderlin:19/30 pts in 4Q of Converse Judson’s 50-47 W against Westlake. Rockets hea… https://t.co/IRNYRW9wQZ — VYPE San Antonio (@VYPE San Antonio)
Besides an early 6-2 Converse Judson lead, the majority of the first three quarters saw a Westlake advantage. Texas signee Shay Holle scored all eight Chaparral points in the opening period to start her team on the right track and future Texas State Bobcat Presley Bennett kept the train rolling with all 13 of her points in the second and third quarters. That set up a 39-29 advantage for the Austin area team going into the fourth quarter.
Then, Sanderlin happened. She led Converse Judson's 21-8 fourth quarter surge, and her 26th point of the game gave the Rockets their first lead in awhile at a 44-43 score. She wasn't alone, as a pair of free throws wrapped up Amira Mabry's 13-point outing and gave the San Antonio area squad a 46-45 advantage.
"[My players] sat down [and] I looked every single one of them in the eye and I asked them if they were done," said Converse Judson head girls basketball coach Triva Corrales. "And they all said 'no' and I said 'then let's go to work' and they did."
Holle answered with a late field goal that extended her game point total to 21 points and allowed Westlake to hold a quick 47-46 lead, but Sanderlin's last four free throws flipped the score to the game-end result and wrapped up Converse Judson's third girls basketball playoff win against the Chaparrals in the last three seasons.
"It gives us a lot of momentum," Sanderlin said of the victory against Westlake. "We're going to execute and we're going fight til the end. Til the double zeros."
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