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GIRLS Class 5A PLAYOFFS Hightower ousts Magnolia West; Manvel advances

February 25, 2019

Magnolia West and Fort Bend Hightower both entered Friday night’s game on the heels of dominant three-game playoff runs. So something had to give when the two teams met on the court at the Campbell Center for their Class 5A Region III semifinal matchup.

The No. 5 state-ranked Lady Canes (27-2) ultimately prevailed in what was a low-scoring tussle, winning 37-27 to advance to the regional finals for the first time since 2010. Hightower will face No. 4 Manvel (37-3) at 2 p.m. Saturday with a trip to the state tournament on the line.

“A lot of it is survive and advance in the playoffs,” Hightower coach Deborah Mize said. “You might not always have your ‘A’ game every night. But hitting free throws down the stretch and getting some stops (was key). We were in such foul trouble in the first half — four starters with two — and that kind of made some people step up earlier than I would have expected or hoped. But making some free throws down the stretch helped.”

Magnolia West saw its historic campaign come to a close. The Lady Mustangs (27-8) were making their firstappearance in the regional semifinals, but they were held to a season-low point total against the Lady Canes. Despite the loss, coach Sarah Simmons was proud of what her players have accomplished this season.

“There’s no other team that I’d want to coach,” Simmons said. “These kids have the best character, the best drive, the best passion, the best love for the game and the best love for each other. There’s no other program I’d rather be with because the kids are that awesome.”

Junior guard Tae’lor Purvis led Hightower with a game-high 14 points. Junior guard Destini Lombard finished with 10, and senior forward Aresa Gipson had eight. Senior center Kendall May led the Lady Mustangs with eight points, and junior forward Kamryn Jones added six.

Magnolia West began the game with a 5-0 lead, but Hightower fired back with 12 unanswered points. The Lady Mustangs finished the quarter by missing their final six shots and committing six turnovers. Hightower held Magnolia West scoreless for a five-minute stretch until May knocked down a free throw with52 seconds remaining.

The Lady Mustangs pulled to within 14-13 with 3:11 to play in the second quarter as Lizzie Lofton connected on a pair of free throws to culminate a 7-0 run. Hightower struggled to finds its offensive rhythm, shooting 2-for-21 during the period. The Lady Canes still found a way to reach halftime with a 17-14 advantage.

“I was just happy that their shooting was as bad as mine tonight,” Simmons said. “Turnovers is what killed us. By my count, we had 21 turnovers, and that’s just possessions that you give to the other team. I don’t think that their pressure was any tougher than anything we’ve seen from our district or in tournaments.

“When you can’t put in free throws and you turn the ball over the other team, you’re going to offensively struggle. We couldn’t get into a flow.”

Hightower started the third quarter with a 5-0 run, taking a 22-14 lead after a layup from Purvis with 4:51 on the clock. Magnolia West pulled within two possessions on back-to-back layups from Alyssa May with less than four minutes to play and trailed the Lady Canes 25-20 at the end of the period.

Magnolia West pulled within three points at 27-24 with 4:43 remaining in the fourth quarter as Jones hit two free throws, but that was as close as the Lady Mustangs got. Hightower made enough plays down the stretch and connected on key shots from the charity stripe to seal their victory.

In the first semifinal game of the night, Manvel earned its secondappearance in the regional finals with a 70-57 victory over College Station. The Lady Mavericks will be aiming for their first trip to the state tournament since they captured the Class 5A championship in 2014.

Manvel and Hightower each finished 15-1 in district play this season. Hightower won two of three matchups during the regular season — once in tournament play at the Peggy Whitley Classic and once in district action. Manvel won the most recent matchup, however.

Manvel (37-3), which had a 38-22 halftime edge, was led by senior guard McKinzie Green, who tallied a game-high 25 points. Senior forward Anessa Dussette finished with 21, and senior guard Deja Williams had 17.

College Station (34-5) was led by 19 points from senior forward Alexys King Grice, and sophomore guard Na’layjah Johnson finished with 18.

jpoorman@hcnonline.com

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