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Highlands nets bi-district win over Southside

February 19, 2019

With 1:56 remaining in regulation, host Southside seemed ready to nail down a bi-district victory.

But Highlands wasn’t done yet, despite the 63-57 disadvantage. Owls junior Layla Mendoza scored the next five points by making three of four free throws and converting a steal for a fastbreak layup. With 10.5 seconds, Mendoza split two Cardinals defenders and drove for a tying layup.

In overtime, Mendoza (10 rebounds, 3 assists) scored eight of the Owls’ last 12 points to finish with a possible school-record 43 points. Highlands (23-14) advanced with a 78-70 victory on Feb. 11.

“It wasn’t just me,” Mendoza said. “My teammates were putting the ball in my hands.”

Mendoza scored 19 points in the fourth quarter and overtime.

“We’ve been in this situation so many times,” Highlands coach Adrianna Wiatrek said. “I give credit to Southside. They came out with those (three-point shots). It seemed like they didn’t miss.

“In the fourth quarter, I wanted Layla to create. But in overtime, I put the ball in her hands and she found a way to dig us out.”

Mendoza scored 20 points on Feb. 14 at Alamo Convocation Center in a 63-40 loss to Kerrville Tivy, No. 3 in the final Texas Association of Basketball Coaches Class 5A poll. Aliyah Smothers added eight points for Highlands in the area-round game.

“We played well,” Wiatrek said. “We fought really hard until the end. It was just that they were better. We’d shut down one kid and another would step up.”

Southside was fighting a war of attrition against Highlands. Four players fouled out in the fourth quarter and overtime, including Maddie Soto (25 points, 11 rebounds) and senior Saleen Altimirano (15 points).

“We aren’t disappointed; it was a heck of a game,” Southside coach Jessica Macias-Cardenas said. “Nobody works harder than Wiatrek and Layla is just a great kid. If we had to lose, you hope it was to someone like them.”

Mendoza made a three-point shot for a 14-11 Highlands lead with 1:10 left in the first quarter. Soto, off a steal by Ashley Cantu (17 points), and Altimirano answered with consecutive three-pointers that gave Southside a 17-14 first-quarter lead.

Cantu made a pair of three-pointers as Southside scored the last eight points for a 34-26 halftime lead.

“We’ve been talking about getting her to step up,” Macias-Cardenas said. “The first quarter, she took four or five shots and didn’t hit one. Then she started rolling.”

Highlands at the start of the third quarter, cutting into Southside’s 34-26 lead. A pair of baskets from Alyssa Flores put the Owls within two. was a force inside and took pressure off Mendoza on the perimeter.

Aizlyn Reyes (15 points, 3 assists) and Iyana Clay (11 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocked shots) contributed as Highlands recorded its first bi-district win since 2015.