FLORESVILLE — For the first time since the 2009-10 season, the Gonzales Lady Apaches have advanced to the second round of playoffs in basketball after defeating Hondo 54-34 in Floresville. The win marks a special moment for the Lady Apaches, specifically a senior class who have lost in the bi-district round three straight times before their 20-point victory on Tuesday.
“We came to this game remembering last year, remembering how awful we felt to lose that game only by three points,” junior guard Sam Barnick said. “I think we just had a new energy coming into this game, we were ready. We’re Gonzales. We were ready to put the win in the books.”
“It feels amazing,” Madison Pirkle, a junior, said after the win, “absolutely amazing to be the first class to break the 10-year streak.”
“It’s huge for them, they wanted it so bad,” Gonzales head coach Lance Butler said. “Our seniors have lost three first-round games and they're an extremely talented group and I was just excited for them. If they can get through that one game and they really learn to believe and understand that they’re capable of anything they set their mind to, there’s no telling how far they can go and I think they’re really starting to see that now.”
Gonzales started the game slow offensively, staying scoreless in the first two minutes of the game. Senior Devon Williams scored the first basket of the night, a put-back after a rebound to get the offense rolling for the Lady Apaches. Hailey Riojas added a triple to go up 5-0 and Gonzales never looked back, scoring nine total threes as a team.
“We’re definitely a three-point shooting team, we’re just a shooting team in general,” Riojas, the senior post player, said. “It takes a couple shots to go not very well for us to start hitting shots and once we start hitting shots, that's all. Once we’re on fire, it’s really hard to put us out.”
The Lady Apaches continued to add to their lead in the half, with long-range shots coming in from Riojas, Jiseala “Chella” Longoria, Alexzandria “Ali” Rocha and even Hayley Sample, who usually stays in the post as the team’s center.
“We really haven’t hit shots all of this year,” Butler explained. “We’ve hit some here and there, but we’ve never been able to string any together and that’s what I’ve been telling the girls, they’ve been eeking out wins, I said at some point in time we’re going to hit and when we do, we can all hit at one time and that’s what happened tonight, everybody hit shots. Sample, our five, stepped out, Ali Rocha who couldn’t miss last year, she struggled this year, she started knocking down shots, and I told them we’re due.”
“Here’s the thing, we’re going to be due at just the right time because it’s playoff time and a perfect time to get hot,” he continued. “That’s the great thing about this team, you saw it several times, they made the extra pass for somebody that was that much wide open so they can get their feet set and make the shot. That’s what’s going to carry us is depth and unselfishness.”
Meanwhile, the Lady Apaches simplified their defense, sticking to a man-to-man look instead of mixing in zone defense with their full-court press.
“What we've really done is we’ve reduced the number of things that we run, we kicked out most of our zone stuff and kicked out our press and just focused man, so I really think everybody has a good idea of what to do,” Butler said. “Are there things we need to work on? For sure — help defense, steals and blocking out. But we want the aggressiveness. We’re trying to shrink the floor to make it easier for us to play man and I thought for the most part we did a great job of that tonight.”
The Lady Apaches allowed just 21 points in three quarters, before Hondo’s late 13-point push in the fourth quarter.
Leading the team in scoring was Chella Longoria who finished the night with 13 points, 12 of which were made behind the three-point arc. Devon Williams and Hailey Riojas added 10 points each while Sam Barnick had eight points, Hayley Sample had seven points and Ali Rocha had six points.
Up next are the #3 Beeville Jones Lady Trojans, a team that’s lost just two games all season. Gonzales faces the tough task of limiting their star center, #11 Kamaria Gipson, who is committed to playing for San Diego State University.
“They have a monster big and just like you see us feed the ball in and kick it back out, [Gipson] does the same thing,” Butler scouted. “She takes the baskets when they’re given to her, but other than that, she trusts her teammates. That’s what we’re going to have to do, we have to somehow try to limit the big, get her to kick it out but still be able to get out and contest and then find a way to block her out. There’s really no way to stop them, we’re just going to try to slow them down and see if we can’t keep our hot shooting going.”
The Lady Apaches understand the tall task at hand, explaining the various things the team will have to do to improve on their bi-district victory.
“I definitely think our help defense and our rebounding, we’re going to need to work on for this next round,” Barnick said. “If we work on that, we have this in the bag too.”
“To add on to what Sam said, we finally started to play as a team,” Riojas added. “There’s some individuals, including myself, that we get so frustrated we start to play on our own, but once we play as a team, we can do endless things, we can go as far as we want, as far as we can, but it’s up to us.”
Gonzales takes on Beeville Jones this Friday in Pleasanton, with tipoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m.