Skip Townsend was a few seconds away from winning his first state tournament game as a head coach before it was stolen.
In the 1998 Class 5A semifinals, Townsend’s Copperas Cove team lost a one-point lead with eight seconds left when an Alief Elsik player stole the ball from future WNBA player Shereka Wright and scored the basket that knocked Copperas Cove out of the playoffs.
Instead of pinning the loss on the steal, Townsend learned the lesson that enabled him to win his next 12 state tournament games and six state championships at Brock.
“It wasn’t just the dadgum steal that beat us down there,” Townsend said. “Maybe it was that they knew how to do it better than we did. I never wanted to go back down with a team and say that their team was more prepared to win the state tournament than my team was.”
Townsend leads Argyle in its trek for a second girls basketball state title and first in Class 3A when the Lady Eagles face Geronimo Navarro at 1:30 p.m. today at Austin’s Frank Erwin Center.
The winner moves on to face Waco La Vega (33-0) or Abilene Wylie (30-5) at 10 a.m. Saturday in the state championship game.
The Lady Eagles won the 2006 2A state championship over Wall and lost in the 2009 3A final against Robinson.
Argyle (35-1) has not lost to a 3A team this season and has won 23 straight games. Its only loss was a six-point defeat to Class 5A’s Round Rock Cedar Ridge.
Argyle finished the regular season ranked second in 3A by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches, while Navarro (33-7) was unranked in the final poll.
Navarro beat Corpus Christi West Oso and Boerne in the 3A Region IV tournament to reach its first state tournament since 1955. Navarro is seeking its first state title.
Argyle’s path to state has been well documented in the week leading up to the tournament. The District 10-3A champion defeated Canton and Celina in the 3A Region II tournament.
The latter contest against Argyle’s district foe was a 51-50 double-overtime victory that has become a national story because of the final seconds of the game. A whistle was blown as Celina’s Kynese Davis was shooting a contested 3-pointer before the final buzzer. The officials ran off the court as Davis stepped to the line for three free throws that were not coming.
After practice this week, Townsend told his players that they belonged in this weekend’s tournament.
“We’ve talked about it,” Argyle junior Delaney Sain said. “It really pumps us up because some people say we don’t deserve it because the refs cheated Celina, but honestly, I know we deserve it. Our team worked so hard, and that just makes me want to go out there and prove it.”
Sain leads the Lady Eagles in both scoring at 13.4 points per game and rebounding with 6.7, while freshman Vivian Gray has tallied 13.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Navarro coach Darrell Harborth said his team will need to rebound well and keep Sain and Gray from getting good shots close to the basket.
“We’re not the biggest team in the world,” Harborth said. “We’re pretty good with our team defense, but that definitely concerns me if they’re able to get it to their big kids and their big kids are able to get good looks. That could definitely make it hard for us.”
Townsend said what Navarro lacks in height it makes up for in strength and toughness, and that his team will have to work for chances to score. Argyle will have to contend with Navarro’s leading scorer, junior Shannon Thompson, who is averaging about 18 points per game.
Townsend said his team will be rusty after four days of inactivity, and a good start will be vital to advancing to the state title game.
After 41 years in coaching and six state titles, Townsend will know exactly what his team should expect in Austin. The Argyle coach said that if his team wants to play in the final game of the season, the Lady Eagles need to find courage as they step into Texas’ Frank Erwin Center this afternoon.
“We have to go out there and forget we’re playing in the state’s final four, and we’ve got to go out there and play as a team,” Townsend said. “We’ve got to go out there and play hard, and we’ve got to remember what we’re doing and what we’re there for.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.