SAN ANTONIO — Cedar Park wasn’t going to let a physical College Station team deny them a chance to defend their crown.
Undaunted by a few elbows and a handful of jersey grabs, Cedar Park cruised to a 59-31 win in a Class 5A women’s basketball semifinal on Thursday at the state tournament at the Alamodome. The win extended the Timberwolves’ winning streak to 61 games, and paved the way for local history in Saturday’s championship game. No Austin-area women’s basketball team has ever had a perfect season, but few teams have ever displayed the Timberwolves’ blend of talent and grit.
“Since we won it last year, that’s where we’ve wanted to be,” said Cedar Park junior Gisella Maul. “As soon as last year’s state championship game ended, we worked really hard to get back here. We deserve it, and that’s what we worked for.
Continued:Cedar Park women’s basketball enters state tournament with style and substance
As Maul can attest, College Station had plenty of fight if not the offense needed to threaten the state’s No. 1 team. Maul, a top rookie playing past Texas women’s coach Vic Shaefer for the second time in the playoffs, has been punched in the face more than once. Post Shelby Hayes’ shoulders were battered to a shade of red, and Megan Woods scuffed herself off the court multiple times after battling for a rebound or a loose ball.
“That’s the way we are,” College Station coach DeAnna Doles said, unapologetically for a style of play that got the rowdy fans at Cedar Park foaming. “We are a brave team that will fight every possession. That’s College Station women’s basketball. We work hard and reclaim every possession.
College Station (31-7) entered the state tournament on a 17-game winning streak, which included playoff victories over Pflugerville, Weiss and Hendrickson in the Region III Finals. But the Cougars had almost as many balls of air as buckets in the decisive first half. At halftime, Cedar Park (36-0) led 25-9 after holding College Station to 4 of 28 before the break. The Timberwolves stretched that lead to 42-22 late in the third period while heading into Saturday’s title game against Frisco Memorial or Amarillo.
Continued:Cedar Park defeats scrappy Liberty Hill, returns to Women’s Basketball State Tournament
“They had a great basketball game today in front of the world,” Cedar Park coach Donny Ott said. “We talked about the fact that this game has to be won inside. We wanted to force the issue inside and see what they gave us. Shelby did a great job passing the ball past the post. Sometimes people don’t understand how difficult it is to have a double or triple team in the position to get it through.”
With College Station’s tallest player in the rotation standing at 5-foot-10, the Timberwolves fielded a towering roster that often featured four 6-footers. Cedar Park topped the boards with a 44-25 advantage in rebounds, and the 6-2 Hayes fought his way into the paint with 22 points and 13 rebounds on 9-of-13 shooting.
“Working upside down opened things up,” Hayes said. “The guards were doing their shots, and that gave me room to do my job.”
Maul, the region’s leading scorer averaging nearly 26 points per game, had a quiet game by her high standards. She battled fouls in the first half and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds in just 18 minutes.
“I don’t know if we’ve had a game this year where G (Maul) has to sit out most of the first quarter,” Ott said. “I was really proud of the kids around her for stepping up.”
Maul’s composure despite all the contact proved to be as important as any stat. She rolled her eyes at a few charge calls and winced after a few serious fouls, but neither she nor any of the other Timberwolves let physical play affect their approach to the game.
“I feel like no one can keep me unless they foul me up,” she said. “One thing that taught me is to stay mentally strong. I’m almost expected to be fouled. I can’t let them get in my head, because that’s what they are trying to do. That’s what happened to me in the last 36 games, so it’s about staying mentally strong.