LADY MARLINS HOLDING COURT
The Christoval Lady Cougars were leading the Port Aransas High School Lady Marlins, 44-43, with only a few seconds left in the fourth quarter. Lady Marlins senior post Whitney Williams had the ball, and she was driving toward the basket.
A Lady Cougars player jumped in front of Williams. A referee blew his whistle. The clock stopped with 1.9 seconds left. The Lady Cougars player was called for a blocking foul.
Williams was to shoot two free throws. If she sank one, the game would be tied and almost certainly go into overtime. If she sank both, the Lady Marlins would be virtually assured a 45-44 victory.
The pressure on Williams was especially intense because this wasn't just any game. This was the state regional semi-finals at the Berger Center in Austin on Friday, Feb. 23. A win would mean advancing to the regional finals the next day and possibly the state tournament in a week.
Williams stood nervously at the free throw line. Asked later what she was thinking at that moment, she said: "Nothing. I wasn't even really thinking. I was just concentrating on the basket."
Her mental strategy worked. She sank the first free throw.
Then she sank the other.
With less than 2 seconds left on the clock, the Lady Cougars were able to get the ball down court, but could not get a shot off before the buzzer ended the game. Tearfully, joyously, the exhausted Lady Marlins embraced each other on court.
"This has to rank as one of the most important and thrilling wins in the long history of Lady Marlin basketball," Lady Marlins coach Randy Henderson said later.
The twin wins earned the Lady Marlins a trip to the state tournament, which begins today - Thursday, March 1, at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin. The Lady Marlins have made the playoffs many times in the high school's 27-year history, but this year is the first time since 1995 that the team has made it to the state tournament.
The Lady Marlins (34-5) are scheduled to play the Sundown High School Lady Red (32-3) in a state semi-final game at 10 a.m. today. Also today, the Lindsay High School Lady Knights (29-4) will play the Martin's Mill High School Lady Mustangs (29-5) in another semi-final. Martin's Mill won the state championship last year and has been ranked No. 1 in the state this year.
The winners of the two semi-final games will play each other for the state championship at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, March 3.
(While the next edition of the South Jetty won't be printed until Thursday, March 8, readers who go to the South Jetty's Web site, www. portasouthjetty.com, can see results of the state tournament games on the days they are played.)
After the regional games, the bus carrying the Lady Marlins was met Sunday night at the ferry landing in Port Aransas by islanders honking their car horns and flashing their lights. Sirens blaring in celebration, police and fire vehicles escorted the team bus to the high school.
The crowd followed the bus from the ferry landing to the high school parking lot. Helen Ashley, mother of Lady Marlins guard Kathy Ashley, handed blue and white flowers to each player as she stepped off the bus. PAHS Principal Travis Longanecker gave high-fives to the players.
"Man, I just have to say I'm so proud of them, not just for winning, but the way they handle themselves in games and in the community," Longanecker said later. "They show so much composure. I could give a number of examples. As they play, there might be a bad call here or there, and our kids respond by keeping their heads up and moving on down the road. You don't see a bunch of whining and complaining and showboating. They are classy, and that is a reflection of Coach Henderson, because that is the way he is."
Lady Marlins fever swept through Port Aransas for the rest of the week. Blue and white ribbons fluttered from signposts and car antennas all over town. Officials cancelled classes for the entire school district on Thursday so folks could go to the game 200 miles away.
Basking in the glow of it all, the players were excited about their playoff results.
"I'm pretty stoked," said Alyssa Crawford, a junior guard. "We set a goal at the beginning of the year, and we're getting there now. This is the reason we practiced."
PAHS held a pep rally Tuesday at Doyle Marek Gym to send off the Lady Marlins. Henderson said the players were excited and proud. But he was also offering words of caution.
"We have to be careful, as there are many distracting things about going to the state tournament," Henderson said. "Our focus has to be on the opponent and our play, not the extraperipheral happenings."
The team from Sundown, an oil town of 1,600 people 40 miles west of Lubbock, has good post play and quick guards, Henderson said.
"They have to be good to have advanced this far," Henderson said. "We are going to get as much info on them as we can. Then we are going to Austin to get after it."
Regardless of how the Lady Marlins do at the state tournament, they can expect a welcoming committee when they come home. Sam Russell, chief of the Port Aransas Police Department, already has promised a police escort, complete with sirens and flashing lights, from the ferry landing to the high school.