They have run roughshod over their first two playoff opponents â€” much as they did consistently during the regular season â€” beating Santa Anna 73-26 in bi-district and 19th-ranked Cross Plains 62-35 in the area round.
Today, the No. 2-ranked Highland girls basketball team returns to yet another comfort zone â€” Abilene Christian Universityâ€™s Moody Coliseum â€” where at 7 p.m., the Lady Hornets will begin defense of their Region II-1A, Division II title in 2013 that sent them to the girls state tournament in Austin for the first time in school history.
And now that they have tasted that slice of heaven, Coach Shea Baucomâ€™s team is eager to get back there next weekend and win their first-ever state title.
But first, Highland must take care of a familiar â€” make that a very familiar â€” foe that has stood in its way so often in the past: Roby.
Highland (26-3) is mak-ing its 13th straight playoff appearance, and for most of that time Roby (17-8) â€” located 30 minutes away in Fisher County â€” has been in its district.
Though tonight is their first meeting of the year, the familiarity hasnâ€™t waned all that much due to the schoolsâ€™ proximity. And according to Baucom, his team is facing a Lady Lions squad that is pretty much like the ones Highland has seen in the past. â€śThey play real solid defense,â€ť he said, â€śand offensively, they take care of the ball and donâ€™t make a lot of turnovers.â€ť
Even if they werenâ€™t facing such a big rival, Baucom said his team is ready for this moment and knows whatâ€™s at stake. â€śAt this point, everybody you face is legit,â€ť Baucom said. â€śI think weâ€™re motivated. We got a taste of success last year, so you want to do that again and get back to that point. This group is experienced, and theyâ€™ve done a good job of staying focused.â€ť
Experienced, yes. And also very talented, smart and much taller than the vast majority of the teams they face. The top five scor-ers from last year are back, and one of them â€” 5-10 sophomore forward Sydny Helbert, who averages 8.1 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds â€” isnâ€™t even in the starting lineup. Highland was ranked No. 1 in the state to begin the season, then fell to No. 2 after a pair of losses in mid-December when Sierra Allen, its all-state 6-1 post, was out due to injury. But after missing a total of five games, Allen â€” who will play basketball at ACU next year â€” has re-sumed her leadership role. She averages a team-high 17.3 points, in addition to 6.6 rebounds. However, Highland has gotten excel-lent contibutions from its other players as well. The other three returning starters are Madison Moseley, a 5-7 junior guard who averages 9.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.8 steals a game; Beth Richburg, a 5-10 senior forward who averages 8.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.0 steals and a team-high 4.3 assists; and Hannah Allen, Sierraâ€™s younger sister, a 5-10 sophomore guard who averages 7.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, a team-high 2.9 steals and 3.8 assists and leads the team with 22 3-pointers this season. The new starter, 6-0 senior post Schyler Kimbrell, averages 6.8 points along with 5.4 rebounds a game.
Highlandâ€™s other top reserves in addition to Helbert include 5-7 junior guard Kaylee Martin (3.3 points), who is second to Hannah Allen on the team with 15 3-pointers; 5-5 sophomore guard-forward Kelsi Johns; and 5-3 senior guard Morgan Monroe.
â€śThe thing that Iâ€™m prou-dest of is that weâ€™ve had so many contributions from so many kids,â€ť Baucom said. â€śEverybody has kind of developed a role. The most pleasing thing has been to see our team grow.â€ť
With two more wins, the dream of winning a state championship will grow as well. A win tonight will be the next step to that goal.