Lady Pirates advance behind gutsy showing

SAGINAW – Not long before, there was a question of whether Lilley Vander Zee had played her last game as a Granbury Lady Pirate.

After breaking the knuckle on the pinky finger of her shooting hand, coach Leta Andrews said Vander Zee was given medical advice not to play in Tuesday’s Class 4A bidistrict game against rival Cleburne.

Vander Zee played, receiving clearance Tuesday afternoon. She had perhaps the most memorable game of her Granbury High career in a 54-33 rout.

The 6-4 all-state post and University of Texas signee scored a dozen points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked six shots.

And Vander Zee, a rightie, did most of it playing left-handed.

“This gives me a little more confidence that I can do more playing left-handed,” she said.

“My favorite player is Candace Parker (of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks). She can shoot and pass both left-handed and right-handed, and I want to be able to do more of that.”

Tuesday’s victory advanced the Lady Pirates (21-13) into last night’s area-round contest against Wichita Falls Rider (30-3) at Decatur High School.

“It’s been an up-and-down year, but it’s working out,” said Vander Zee, forcing a smile through pain.

It was obvious Vander Zee was hurting, even in pre-game warmups. And early in the contest she appeared to be protective of the hand, which was almost completely wrapped.

An early pass went awry and into the hands of a Cleburne defender. She let another rebound slip away and go out of bounds.

Then, she dug in.

“Just winning, that’s what’s important,” she said. “It’s not about my hand. These are the playoffs. If you lose, you go home, and I’m not ready to quit playing.”

The Lady Jackets (21-13) started an all-guard lineup, perhaps in anticipation of her absence or thinking she would not be a factor in the game.

They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Vander Zee’s best quarter was the second. She scored six points, pulled down two rebounds, blocked two shots and even made a pair of free throws – left-handed.

“I shot the first two (in the first quarter) with my right hand, but it hurt too much, so I switched to my left,” she said, adding that now that the game was over, the pain was “on a scale of 1-10, a 25.”

In that second quarter, the Lady Pirates increased their lead to double digits, taking a 27-14 halftime lead.

“It’s a game of every player, and her being a senior, Lilley had a burning desire to play tonight,” said Lady Pirate coach Leta Andrews. “She was a gutsy player.

“In athletic contests, great players are going to play with injuries. All of my career, I’ve had players step up and fight through pain in the moment of the contest. That’s what Lilley did tonight, and I’m proud of her.”

Ashley Bonugli of the Lady Pirates led all scorers with 14 points while also collecting nine rebounds. She said Vander Zee’s presence was inspiring to the rest of the team.

“We were prepared to play without her, and I think we could have won, but her being out there gave us more of a push,” said Bonugli, adding of her own performance, “Playoffs is the time to pick it up.”

Bonugli and Vander Zee each came through with their top performances of the season last year in the postseason as the Lady Pirates reached the regional semifinals. It was their deepest run in the playoffs since 2003.

“Ashley has that kind of determination,” said Andrews. “But they’re seniors, and they know what the alternative is.”

Junior Lauren Clough also had one of her best games of the season with nine rebounds.

“They turned what was a negative into a positive,” Andrews said.

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Girls Class 4A bidistrict basketball

Granbury 11 16 10 17 – 54

Cleburne 4 10 4 15 – 33

Granbury (21-13) scoring – Ashley Bonugli 14, Lilley Vander Zee 12, Morgan Northcutt 9, Shelby Cline 7, Lauren Clough 6, Kali Jones 2, Whitney Matos 2, Bailey Cole 1, Mikayla Carpenter 1.

Cleburne (21-13) leading scorer – Bria McCullough 11.

3-pointers – Granbury 2-2 (Northcutt 2), Cleburne 1-16 (Jeffcoat 1).

2-pointers – Granbury 14-22, Cleburne 13-31.

Rebounds – Granbury 32 (Vander Zee 9, Clough 9, Bonugli 9), Cleburne 19 (Hough 9).

Assists – Granbury 13 (Northcutt 3, Clough 3), Cleburne 1.

Turnovers – Granbury 19, Cleburne 15 (Bonugli 3 steals).

Blocks – Granbury 6 (Vander Zee 6), Cleburne 0.

Free throws – Granbury 20-36, Cleburne 3-10.