MISSION — In the waning moments of the fourth quarter with the game clock frozen in time, Sharyland Pioneer’s Carly Hornaday took a deep breath and stepped to the free-throw line.
Hornaday calmly and coolly sank both of shots from the charity stripe before trotting back on defense.
It was part of a perfect shooting night for Hornaday, as her free throws finally put her team on the board in the final quarter and helped fend off a late Mission Veterans comeback bid, as the Diamondbacks held on for a 49-35 win over the Patriots on Friday night at Sharyland Pioneer High School.
“This was definitely a total team win. There was so much hype on the bench and I think that kind of fit onto the court,” Sharyland Pioneer head coach Nicole Villarreal said. “There was a lot of emotion on the court, so I was very proud of how we maintained our cool and our focus.”
“It feels really good,” Hornaday said. “Our team was super nervous at first, but now we’re like, ‘Yes!’ Especially for our seniors, since it was their last game (against Mission Veterans), it was good to get the win for them.”
It was a total team effort offensively for the Diamondbacks, but the game didn’t start out that way.
The Patriots jumped out to a quick 8-2 lead in the first quarter thanks to the scoring punch of senior point guard Ronnie Cantu and frenetic, fast play on the defensive end. Cantu finished the night with a game-high 13 points, while senior sharp shooter Kaylee Flores added 10.
But Pioneer quickly flipped the script at the close of the first quarter. The Diamondbacks scored 12 of the final 14 points in the quarter to seize the lead and ended the half on a 25-6 run fueled largely by intense full-court defense and transition buckets to carry a commanding double-digit lead in the break.
“We made lots of turnovers and those are really easy baskets. There were a lot of positives. When we’re locked in and focused, we can play as good as anyone,” Mission Veterans head coach Rafael Cantu said. “But it takes four quarters of that and we can’t have lapses where you give up 18 straight points. Those can’t happen; you’ve got to minimize those runs that other teams have, especially when you’re not shooting well or rebounding.”
The Diamondbacks picked up where they left off in the third quarter, dominating the Patriots down low defensively and on the boards.
Hornaday took charge in the low post, scoring a game-high 16 points and six rebounds on 100% shooting from the floor and free-throw line. All in all, Pioneer out-rebounded the undersized Mission Vets squad 29-22.
“That’s one of the things that we’ve been harping on all season. We’re going to encounter smaller teams and we better be able to use our size,” Villarreal said. “We’ve definitely come a long way from where we started, and I’m very proud of the way our bigs played on the defensive end and Carly showed up shooting the ball instead of trying to pass it out.”
The Patriots actually started the fourth quarter on a hot streak, sprinting out to an 11-0 run in the first 4:42 of the frame before Hornaday’s clutch free throws snapped the Diamondbacks’ scoring skid.
Pioneer was able to put Mission Veterans in foul trouble and capitalized on its trips to the free-throw line to put the game on ice and move to 11-0 in District 31-5A.
“It was big because we know if we went in (the lane), they were going to foul. In practice, we were shooting a lot of free throws and knew we needed to get them. It really helped us,” Hornaday said. “We really want this… We’ve just got to work. We have to work harder than we ever have.”
PATS’ CANTU COMMITS TO ST. EDWARD’S
Mission Veterans senior Ronnie Cantu cemented her future academic and athletic career plans by announcing her verbal commitment to play basketball at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas through Twitter on Thursday. The Hilltoppers, a Division II program, play in the NCAA’s Lone Star Conference.
“I am blessed and excited to announce my official commitment to play basketball at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas,” Cantu wrote in a statement. “I can’t thank my family, friends, coaches, and teammates enough for shaping me into the player I’ve grown to be.”
Cantu, the Patriots’ starting point guard, ranks among the Valley’s top 10 leaders in points (15.9), assists (4.3) and steals (4.3) per game.
HORNADAY HONORED WITH ALL-AMERICA GAME NOMINATION
Following their 11th consecutive district win, the Diamondbacks congratulated senior teammate Audry Hornaday on the court with a surprise nomination for a spot in the McDonald’s High School All-America game. Hornaday is the second Valley girls basketball player to receive the distinction, after McAllen Memorial’s Valeria Garcia received the honor last week.
Hornaday, Pioneer’s back-to-back team MVP, suffered an injury early in the season that has restricted her ability to play, but she continues to lead the Diamondbacks from the bench with her voice and basketball IQ.
“On the bench, she’s calling the offense. She’s in charge of it, she’s reading the defense and that’s just going to make her a heck of a player at the collegiate level because of her growth,” Villarreal said. “She’s growing immensely, she sees the other side of the game and I love the way she goes and talks to our players. She’s being very directive with them, leading them and coaching them up, so what better than to have a player coach on the bench.”