SAN ANGELO â€” The wait is over.
After eight long years, Sweetwater is finally sending a girls basketball team to the playoffs.
And boy, did they have to battle and scrap hard to earn it on Friday against a Big Spring squad that put up a valiant fight right to the bitter end.
After trailing nearly the entire game, Sweetwater launched a 9-2 run in the fourth quarter â€” capped by Suede Shirleyâ€™s go-ahead 3-pointer with 48.2 seconds left â€” to take a 41-38 lead in the teamsâ€™ District 4-3A third-place tiebreaker at San Angelo Lake View.
Then, though Sweetwater never gave that lead back, it had to survive a wild finish before holding on for an exhausting 44-43 victory.
Janell Walker sank two free throws that upped the lead to 43-38 with 13 seconds left. But Big Spring was far from finished.
First, the Lady Steers hit a two-pointer with 6.6 sec-onds left. Big Spring called a quick timeout to set up its full-court press, then fouled Shirley to send her to the free throw line with 5.7 to play. Shirley made it 44-40 by hitting the second of her two free throws. A desperation 3 by Big Springâ€™s Julianna Rodriguez, however, made it 44-43 with just one-tenth of a second left.
Inbounding the ball from under Big Springâ€™s basket, Sweetwater got it to Walker, and time expired to set off a celebration. Sweetwater will now face Fort Stockton in a Class 3A bi-district match-up at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Sonora High School, while Big Springâ€™s season ended.
The seven seniors who are on this yearâ€™s team were 9- and 10-year-old gradeschoolers the last time a Sweetwater girls basketball team made the playoffs.
â€śIn the back of my mind I knew weâ€™d come back,â€ť said Shirley, whose team trailed by as much as 11 points (28-17) in the third quarter and trailed 38-35 with less than two minutes left.
â€śI knew that we wouldnâ€™t stop until we did it.â€ť
â€śItâ€™s been our teamâ€™s goal to go to the playoffs,â€ť said another senior, Kendra Crosson, who paced Sweet-water with 19 points. â€śI knew in my heart weâ€™d bring it back. I never doubted it.â€ť
Walker, another senior whose 3-pointer with 3:22 left started the teamâ€™s late run, admitted to being â€śreally nervousâ€ť when she went to the line for a one-and-one with 13 seconds left and a narrow lead.
But she made both free throws to extend the lead to five points, 43-38, helping her to relax just a little.
â€śI told myself that I gotta make it,â€ť she said after-ward, â€śbecause the game depended on me.â€ť
For the first three quar-ters, Crosson provided most of Sweetwaterâ€™s offense as Big Spring jumped out to a quick 8-2 lead and trailed only twice in that time â€” at 9-8 and 14-11 in the second quarter. The second lead came on Elise Lawrenceâ€™s 3-pointer with 2:59 left in the half, but the lead was short-lived. Big Spring was back on top 19-15 at the half, then went on a 9-2 run to begin the third. Law-rence scored nine points for the Lady Mustangs while Walker finished the game with five, Shirley and Shelby Cason four and Kelsi Crosson three.
â€śI knew if we just settled down and did what we do in practice weâ€™d be all right,â€ť coach Al Miller said.
â€śIt feels real good. Iâ€™m more happy for the girls, though, and Iâ€™m so happy for my seniors.â€ť