MANSFIELD — The TAPPS Class 5A state championship game could not have started much worse than it did for the Liberty Christian girls.
But after overcoming some early scoring woes, the Lady Warriors seemed to be on their way to winning their fourth state championship.
Turns out, the only thing worse than the way the game started for Liberty was the way it ended, as Plano John Paul II went on a second-half scoring spree to top the Lady Warriors 46-39 and claim its first state title.
“The constant thing you have to do is you have to defend and rebound, and we didn’t do those things in the second half,” Liberty coach Ken Burroughs said. “When you don’t do those things, you’re not going to win.”
The Lady Warriors (25-15) returned to the state final after a first-round playoff exit last season — the only one of Burroughs’ seven seasons with Liberty that hasn’t ended in the state championship game.
After a slow start for both teams, including a scoreless drought for Liberty Christian over the game’s first 5:15, that produced a combined 11 first-quarter points, the Lady Warriors got on track in the second quarter and put the Cardinals (30-11) in a precarious foul situation.
The Lady Warriors went on a 9-2 run that spanned most of the second quarter behind the scoring of freshman guard Hannah Hand and senior post player RayVon Christian, the Lady Warriors’ only non-freshman starter.
Hand and Christian were Liberty Christian’s only two scorers in double figures, with 15 and 11 points, respectively. Leading scorer Rebekah Hand, Hannah Hand’s twin sister, was held to just three points but collected 10 rebounds.
After its 11-point first half, John Paul II coach Mike Martin had a simple message for his team, and the result was a third victory in three tries this season against the Lady Warriors.
“I just asked, ‘Why are we waiting till the last game to play like this and play out of our character?’” Martin said. “I asked them if they were strong enough mentally to get back in this game, and they decided they were. That’s how we left it at halftime.”
With post player Claire Ricketts, one of the Cardinals’ top two scorers, on the bench after picking up her fourth foul just a minute into the second half, the team’s other main scoring threat put her team on her back.
While Ricketts was on the bench for 11 straight minutes until midway through the fourth quarter, point guard Kindell Texada scored 15 second-half points to finish with a game-high 21. She scored 11 points in the third quarter to give the Cardinals a 31-30 lead heading into the final period.
“She can take over a game, but she also can get your whole team involved in the game,” Burroughs said of the John Paul II senior guard. “She got them rolling, and once you have a person doing that, it’s contagious. That’s kind of what happened. She led them and they refused to lose.
“When you have one as competitive as [Texada] is, it’s huge. I had to watch it three times this year. If you ever have an opportunity to beat them, you can’t let her go off, and she went off.”
Burroughs chalked the Cardinals’ second-half comeback — when they outscored the Lady Warriors by 12 points — up to his team’s lack of boxing out on the defensive end, especially with Ricketts on the bench.
“I don’t know how many second-chance shots they had when the post girl [Ricketts] was out,” Burroughs said. “We stopped them, and they’d get a rebound and stick the ball back up. You just can’t let people do that to you. They did it to us in the third quarter.”
Burroughs is 3-3 in state championship games as the Lady Warriors’ head coach — winning the title in 2007, 2008 and 2011 — and though he knows nothing is guaranteed, the chances are good he’ll have more opportunities with a team that started four freshmen this season and loses just four seniors.
“This was a great group,” Burroughs said. “We have a lot coming back next year, which is no guarantee. You’re never guaranteed, which is why you like to win when you have the chance. We do have a young team that made it to the state championship with a lot of girls returning.
“I know they’re freshmen in grade, but other than when people remind me about it, I didn’t think about it much. They played beyond their years.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
Plano John Paul II 46, Liberty Christian 39
John Paul II 6 5 20 15 — 46
Liberty Christian 5 11 14 9 — 39
John Paul II (30-11) — Kindell Texada 21, Kelsey Sweeney 8, Claire Ricketts 7, Arabella DeAngelis 10.
Liberty Christian (25-15) — Rebekah Hand 3, Hannah Hand 15, RayVon Christian 11, Ali Gardner 3, Sydney Goodson 5, Kendall Ellig 2.