AUSTIN — The Highland girls basketball team knew what it was up against on Friday when it faced a Calvert squad whose considerable speed and ability to create turnovers with its wall-to-wall defensive pressure compensated for a big size disadvantage against the Lady Hornets.
What Highland could not have expected, however, was the kind of shooting performance delivered by Calvert’s Jaylonn Walker.
Walker, a 5-7 sophomore forward, scored 30 points and hit six 3-pointers — five of them in the first quarter — to lead the Lady Trojans to a 53-45 win in the teams’ Class 1A, Division II semifinal at the University of Texas’ Frank Erwin Center.
Calvert (25-1) advanced to play Nazareth for the state championship on Saturday night. Highland, making its second straight trip to the state tournament and the only in the final four to make a repeat appearance, finishes at 28-4.
Walker’s scoring fueled a 13-2 surge at the end of the first quarter and the start of the second that completely changed the momentum of the contest. It turned a 12-6 Highland lead, led by Sierra Allen and Hannah Allen each with six points, into a 19-14 deficit. The most crushing blow came when Walker hit her fifth 3 as the first-quarter buzzer sounded to give Calvert a 17-14 lead, and the Lady Trojans never looked back.
“Hannah had a hand in her face,” Highland coach Shea Baucom said. “She defended her well. I thought we did a good job (defending) everyone until 23 (Walker) hit four or five 3s. It was a combination of us turning the ball over a couple of times and then she hit some big shots and gave them a bit of momentum.”
Highland — which lost to Saltillo, 41-19, in the semi-finals last year in making its first state appearance ever — was able to hang tough this time. But the Lady Hornets were unable to find enough offensive consistency to offset their turnover problems (12 in the first half, 20 for the game) and Walker’s remarkable shooting.
Highland’s job was made even tougher by the fact that both Sierra Allen and Beth Richburg — two of the five Lady Hornets who are 5-10 or taller — got in foul trouble and both fouled out in the fourth quarter.
Calvert still led by just four, 30-26, at halftime, but increased its advantage to 43-34 after three periods.
And when Allen fouled out with 4:51 to play, Highland trailed by 15, 51-36, which was the largest Calvert lead of the game. But the Lady Hornets responded with a 9-2 finish, led by Hannah Allen’s seven points.
Baucom said he never had doubts that his team could pull off a huge comeback after Calvert’s lead reached double digits. “Definitely, I thought we had a shot,” he said. “Basketball is a game of momentum. You never feel like you’re out of it. I know our kids never quit fighting out there.”
It was the last game for five seniors, including starters Sierra Allen — who will play basketball at Abilene Christian University next year — Richburg and Schyler Kimbrell, as well as reserves Morgan Monroe and Kristen Harris.
Sierra Allen and Richburg also started on last year’s state semifinalist Highland team, as did Hannah Allen, who is just a sophomore, and Madison Moseley, who is a junior. Hannah Allen, who is Sierra’s younger sister, led the Lady Hornets with 13 points and Sierra Allen had 12 on Friday.
Also scoring were Kimbrell with eight points, and Moseley and Sydny Helbert with six apiece. Kimbrell and and Helbert also had 10 rebounds each to pace a 41-36 edge on the boards.
Baucom thinks the Lady Hornets are capable of making yet another state run in 2015. “I thought we had a good chance to win (state). It was disappointing not to get a chance to play for a championship,” he said.
“I told our players that I appreciate them and what they’ve accomplished. But our goal is to be back here next year.”