COMMERCE — The eyes of everyone inside Texas A&M-Commerce’s Field House were on three huddled referees in the corner of the court.
After a few tense moments, the refs sprinted off the court and the game was over. Fans were screaming out of joy or disbelief.
Argyle freshman Vivian Gray knocked down a free throw with 4.8 seconds left in the second overtime to give the Lady Eagles a 51-50 victory over Celina in the Class 3A Region II final on Saturday. Argyle’s third win over Celina this season sends the Lady Eagles to the 3A state tournament for the first time since 2009.
“We just hung in there,” Argyle coach Skip Townsend said. “That’s all I can say. Our kids have never, ever been in a game like this before. Our juniors haven’t been in a game like this before. Our freshmen were eighth-graders last year playing in junior high.”
Argyle won all three meetings against its District 10-3A rival. Argyle finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in 3A by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches, while Celina (28-7) was ranked fourth.
Gray led the Lady Eagles with 17 points, while junior Delaney Sain added 15 points and 12 rebounds to keep Argyle (35-1) undefeated against 3A teams this season. Freshman Madison Ralston had 10 points.
Celina junior KJ Stastny led all scorers with 18 points.
Gray knocked down five of her six free throws in the overtimes after Argyle missed all five of its free throws in the fourth quarter.
After Gray’s last free throw, Celina took the ball down the court and an official blew his whistle as Kynese Davis’ 3-pointer fell well short of the basket as time expired.
The referees retreated to the corner to briefly converse before they permanently left the court to a chorus of boos. Celina coach Jordan Davis immediately sprinted after the referees but stopped at the edge of the court.
“I’m so proud of the girls and the way they fought,” Davis said. “They never gave up and they played hard the whole time. I’m just really proud of them. It’s a sad way to go out, but I’m proud of them and the way that they fought.”
Through A&M-Commerce officials, the referees from Temple offered no comment to Argyle or Celina coaches regarding the end of the game. Celina’s fans booed as Argyle received its trophy and celebrated with the fans who made the trek to Commerce for the regional tournament final.
Argyle led 39-36 in the fourth before Kynese Davis knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 18.1 seconds left. Argyle couldn’t get a basket to go down in the final seconds of the quarter, and the teams went to overtime.
In overtime, the game was either tied or Celina held leads no bigger than two points. Stastny was fouled with 9.1 seconds left and went to the line. She made the first shot, missed the second and Argyle stormed down the court.
Sain caught the ball near the basket, turned and banked in a short jumper as time expired to send the game into double overtime.
“Our play was to get Jesse [Sheridan] the ball for a 3 in the corner in case it was a three-point game,” Townsend said. “We just did a good job of getting the ball to her and seeing Delaney open behind. [It was a] Celina mistake letting her get the ball right there.”
Gray and Sain combined for 11 of Argyle’s 12 points in the two overtimes. Sain said her emotions had never been that high. She added that Saturday’s performance was far from her team’s best this season.
“I don’t think we played our best, at all — we obviously didn’t — but this is Celina,” Sain said. “We beat them twice already. We didn’t want to lose to them when it really counts.”
Early on, Celina’s experienced squad seemed to rattle an Argyle team with one senior on the roster.
Celina ripped off a 13-2 run and opened up a seven-point lead at the end of the first quarter. Townsend watched as his team struggled to break Celina’s full-court press. The turnovers quickly mounted, and so did Argyle’s deficit.
Stastny hit a 3-pointer in the second to put Celina ahead 25-15 — and Argyle behind by 10 points for the second time this season. But behind Sain, Argyle rallied.
The Lady Eagles regained their composure and chipped away at the deficit. Gray forced a steal and Ralston knocked down a short jumper at the buzzer to cap a 10-0 Argyle run and tie the game at 25 at halftime.
“It was pressure, but it was fine,” Gray said. “We were in the ballgame again. It was like the beginning of the game.”
At the end of the game, Gray’s free throw in the second overtime atoned for Argyle’s missed free throws in the final minutes of regulation. After all the chaos in the Field House subsided, the Lady Eagles cut down a net, posed with their trophy and relished in their dramatic victory.
“I can’t even tell you how proud of them I am,” Townsend said. “We work hard every day. If you show up and you work hard every day, good things are going to happen. This is the best thing that’s ever happened to them — right here.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.