Playoffs at last!

SAN ANGELO — 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 — capped by Suede Shirley’s go-ahead 3-pointer with 48.2 seconds left — to take a 41-38 lead in the teams’ 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 Spring’s Julianna Rodriguez, however, made it 44-43 with just one-tenth of a second left. Inbounding the ball from under Big Spring’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 Spring’s season ended.The seven seniors who are on this year’s team were 9- and 10-year-old gradeschoolers the last time a Sweetwater girls basketball team made the playoffs.“In the back of my mind I knew we’d come back,” 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.“I knew that we wouldn’t stop until we did it.”“It’s been our team’s goal to go to the playoffs,” said another senior, Kendra Crosson, who paced Sweet-water with 19 points. “I knew in my heart we’d bring it back. I never doubted it.”Walker, another senior whose 3-pointer with 3:22 left started the team’s late run, admitted to being “really nervous” 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.“I told myself that I gotta make it,” she said after-ward, “because the game depended on me.”For the first three quar-ters, Crosson provided most of Sweetwater’s offense as Big Spring jumped out to a quick 8-2 lead and trailed only twice in that time — at 9-8 and 14-11 in the second quarter. The second lead came on Elise Lawrence’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. “I knew if we just settled down and did what we do in practice we’d be all right,” coach Al Miller said. “It feels real good. I’m more happy for the girls, though, and I’m so happy for my seniors.”