Well, the first phase at least.
The Granbury Lady Pirates entered the Granbury Van Griffith Kia Tournament with a goal to get themselves in order mentally and physically for the upcoming District 7-4A basketball race.
With their star player on the sidelines for several games with a back injury, the team was struggling to score points, much less win games.
But 6-4 University of Texas signee Lilley Vander Zee returned in the tournament and led the way as the Lady Pirates played their best basketball of the season.
Vander Zee was named the tournament’s most valuable player after the Lady Pirates (8-10) defeated Beaumont Central 39-33 to win the consolation bracket Saturday.
“Our record doesn’t show it, but come district we’re focused and ready to show them who Granbury is,” said Vander Zee after she scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds against Central (11-7).
In fact, the Lady Pirates won the tournament’s opening game, 49-38 over Nolan Catholic, WITHOUT Vander Zee. That, along with the return of Vander Zee, made the weekend a real confidence-booster for a team that appeared to be imploding.
The night before topping Central, the Lady Pirates defeated Texas Home Educators Sports Association (22-6) 64-61, scoring a season high.
“It’s such a good feeling to get two wins in a row,” said Lady Pirate coach Leta Andrews.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that these young ladies have turned a corner. We beat some good teams this weekend.”
Central entered the tournament ranked 19th in the state in Class 4A. Early in the contest Saturday they were playing like they should be ranked even higher, jumping out to a 15-5 lead early, thanks largely to Granbury mistakes.
Then Granbury settled down and began to force Central into bad decisions. Central turned the ball over eight times in the second quarter and seven in the third, compared to just six for Granbury in that span, as the Lady Pirates took a 28-25 lead.
Central regained the lead briefly in the fourth quarter, 29-28, but again the Granbury defense took over and forced six turnovers in the final six minutes to finish the game with an 11-4 run. Vander Zee and Morgan Northcutt clinched the win at the free throw line in the final seconds.
Free throws were a big part of the victory, with the Lady Pirates going 10-for-15 at the line and Central 5-for-8.
The Lady Pirates also dominated the boards with a 27-15 rebound advantage, and won the final turnover battle by forcing 24 and committing 16.
Malena Washington of Central led her team with 16 points, but she was held to two points in the fourth quarter. Those two points, however, did close the gap to 36-33 with 51 seconds left.
Central managed just one shot after that, a desperation 3-point heave at the buzzer. Along with putting Vander Zee and Northcutt on the line, they gave the ball up on a traveling violation with 24 seconds to play.
“You don’t talk about it. It’s just a team agreement that you’re not going to lose,” Vander Zee said of the comeback. “You just pick it up, get back in the game and win.”
Along with their strong play, the Lady Pirates got a glimpse of 7-4A foe Aledo. The two teams entered the season expected to battle for the league crown.
The Ladycats (8-5), however, struggled in the tournament with two losses in three games. Both of those losses came to teams the Lady Pirates defeated, THESA (48-41) and Central (55-49).
“It’s going to be a tough ride in district, but whoever said winning district would be easy?” said Andrews. “But this weekend is going to give us such a shot in the arm.”
COLE’S CLUTCH PLAY
Bailey Cole had a clutch steal and two free throws in the final minute as the Lady Pirates held off THESA 64-61 in the consolation semifinals.
With Granbury ahead 59-58, Cole was fouled and made two three throws. Seconds later, she had a steal and made another foul shot with 28 seconds to play.
Vander Zee iced the contest with two free throws with 15 seconds remaining.
“I knew we had to win this game,” said a determined Cole.
Vander Zee led all scorers with 28 points and all rebounders with 13. It led a Lady Pirate offense that was a sizzling 22-for-31 (71 percent) from the field, including 20-for-25 (80 percent) from 2-point range.
“This is definitely a big difference from what we’ve been shooting,” said Cole. “We came in this morning and shot, and it helped.
“Now that Lilley’s back we’re becoming a more complete team.”
Andrews said Vander Zee’s presence is “a peace for the rest of the team. They feed off her and her off them.”
Cole also had a steal and basket in the closing seconds of the first half to bring Granbury to within 31-30. In the third quarter, Vander Zee scored eight as the Lady Pirates took a 47-44 lead.
Free throws were again a large part of the victory for Granbury as they were 18-for-28, compared to 8-for-10 for THESA. The Riders were also just 5-for-23 (22 percent) from 3-point range and 24-for-63 (38 percent) overall.
And while THESA had less than half of the turnovers as Granbury (10-22), they had six in the fourth quarter, including a critical carrying violation with 1:32 left.
Once again the Lady Pirates won the rebounding battle, 31-21.
“They were pleased to be back together as a team this weekend, and I believe they are ready to take on 7-4A,” said Andrews.
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Van Griffith Kia Basketball Tournament
THESA 14 17 13 17 – 61
Granbury 17 13 17 17 – 64
Granbury (7-10) scoring – Lilley Vander Zee 28, Morgan Northcutt 13, Bailey Cole 11, Ashley Bonugli 5, Kali Jones 3, Lauren Clough 2, Shelby Cline 2.
THESA (22-6) scoring leaders – Melody Williams 28, Rochelle Vasquez 21.
3-pointers – Granbury: Northcutt 2. THESA: M. Williams 3, Alyssa Williams 1, Vasquez 1.
Rebounds – Granbury: Vander Zee 13, Bonugli 8. THESA M. Williams 13.
Free throws – Granbury 18-28, THESA 8-10.
Beaumont Cent. 12 5 8 8 – 33
Granbury 5 9 14 11 – 39
Granbury (8-10) scoring – Vander Zee 18, Northcutt 10, Clough 3, Whitney Matos 2, Cline 2, Bonugli 2.
Central (11-7) scoring leader – Malena Washington 16.
3-pointers – Granbury: Northcutt 1. Central: Washington 1, Aliyah Ozone 1.
Rebounds – Granbury: Vander Zee 8, Cline 6, Bonugli 5. Central: Alexandria Hailey 9.
Granbury steals – Bonugli 3.
Free throws – Granbury 10-15, Central 5-8.