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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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Next to dynasty's definition in the dictionary is a photo of the Argyle girls basketball program. That's because the Lady Eagles entered Friday's UIL 4A state semifinal against Fredericksburg as the five-time defending state champion. The Battlin' Billies gave them a great fight early, but a late second quarter push allowed Argyle to flip a four-point deficit to a three-point lead going into halftime and set the tone for the rest of their 49-38 victory.
"Today was a really good and tough game for us, but we were prepared," said VYPE Player of the Game Rhyle McKinney. "We didn't give up on it. And it just showed tonight that we can really get big stops on defense and that's just what we're going to have to do tomorrow."
McKinney, who led all players with 20 points and three blocks, helped her team warm up with six-point performances in the second and third quarters.
One hurdle that Argyle faced in the opening half was Fredericksburg's balanced attack that included five different scorers. Freshman Ella Hartmann was among them, scoring eight of her team-high 18 points before halftime. But, six-point first half performances by Brooklyn Carl and Shelby Henches helped the Lady Eagles fly past the competition. They finished with nine and eight points respectively.
Once Argyle had the lead, it didn't give it back. Along with its shooters heating up, its defense assisted in outscoring Fredericksburg 25-17 in the second half.
"We talked about it at halftime," said Argyle coach Chance Westmoreland. "The third quarter, we really needed to lock in on defense [and] make it hard for 'em. I thought the girls did a great job of that."
Argyle will celebrate their annual semifinal victory during Friday's dinner at Fuddruckers, but its players and coaches will start planning for Saturday's UIL 4A state championship and final season opponent Fairfield once they walk through the restaurant's doors.
"Every game's a new game," said McKinney. "Our coaching staff, we trust them 100 percent. They prepare us completely."