AUSTIN — Before Waco La Vega ransacked District 17-3A and won each game by an average margin of 34.7 points, head coach Amy Gillum was in need of a nondistrict opponent.
She picked up the phone and called Argyle’s Skip Townsend, the legendary head coach who happened to have a pretty good team as well. However, the coaches couldn’t get the logistics worked out and the fixture was scrapped.
Gillum and Townsend had to wait until the final day of the season, but the state’s two best teams finally get a chance to play each other.
Argyle faces La Vega today in the Class 3A state championship game. Tip-off is slated for 10 a.m. at Texas’ Frank Erwin Center.
“For 3A basketball, it’s like everything coming to the climax right at the end,” Townsend said. “It couldn’t have happened more perfectly.”
La Vega (34-0) finished the regular season ranked first in 3A by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches. Argyle (36-1) was right behind the Lady Pirates.
In its third state tournament appearance, La Vega is looking to become the 19th undefeated team to win a UIL girls basketball title. Argyle is going for its second state championship and its first in Class 3A. The Lady Eagles beat Wall for the 2006 2A championship and lost to Robinson in the 2009 3A final.
The state’s top 3A teams have been impressive since the season started three months ago.
La Vega has won by an average of 26.9 points per game. Argyle has not lost to a 3A opponent and has won 24 straight games since its lone loss to Class 5A’s Round Rock Cedar Ridge.
Last year, many of Argyle’s players were wrapping up their middle school careers. Argyle’s core group of freshmen has adjusted to the challenge of playing on the state’s biggest stage.
“I think since we’re so young and it’s our first experience being here, we’ve handled it pretty well,” Argyle freshman Madison Ralston said. “Leading into the next game, I think we’ll do well.”
Argyle’s youthful squad faces a La Vega team that has won its six playoff games by an average of 29.6 points. Only three teams have lost to the Lady Pirates by less than 10 points.
In Thursday’s state semifinals, La Vega easily dispatched an Abilene Wylie squad ranked third with a 66-53 decision. Argyle advanced with a 64-37 win over Geronimo Navarro.
Both teams have key players at similar positions. La Vega junior center Erin DeGrate scored a game-high 24 points against Wylie, while sophomore guard Calveion Landrum scored 19 points. Argyle junior center Delaney Sain scored 15 points in Argyle’s rout of Navarro, while junior guard Vivian Gray scored a game-high 19.
Landrum is ranked by ESPN Hoopgurlz as the No. 15 player in the nation’s class of 2016.
“Usually it’s either there’s a threat outside or a threat inside,” Sain said. “This time it’s both, and it’s going to be really challenging to keep an eye on both.”
Sain, who is 5 feet 11 inches tall, will have her hands full with DeGrate, who is listed at 6-4. Townsend gave his starting center some tongue-in-cheek advice in Friday’s practice — put a hand up and cross your fingers. Townsend said DeGrate will be tough to contain.
“If they throw the ball up there, they’re out of our reach,” Townsend said. “It’s like our girls playing Wilt Chamberlain. We know she’s pretty much going to do what she wants with it.”
While other state tournament games were going on at the Frank Erwin Center, Townsend shuffled around Crum Court in Texas’ practice gym Friday afternoon as Argyle prepped for today’s game.
The La Vega coach expressed her respect for the team and head coach looking to hand the Lady Pirates their first and only loss of the season.
“They’re tough,” Gillum said. “They’re Argyle. When you hear the name Argyle, you associate that with women’s basketball. They have a legendary coach, and I cannot wait to shake his hand and say ‘Hi!’ I’ll probably be star-struck.”
Townsend said his team will have to rebound well, slow down La Vega’s fast break, break its press and be aggressive offensively.
If Argyle can follow Townsend’s plan and manage to top La Vega, he will have his seventh state title and Argyle will collect its second.
“It’s really exciting,” Sain said. “We’re kind of expected to lose, so going in we really have nothing to lose. We’re going to go out there and give it our all, no matter what.”