LORENA — If Rebekah Nolte was sweating the situation, she didn’t show it.
In that moment, Nolte looked as cool as the strongest anti-perspirant on the market. Gatesville’s junior guard calmly dropped in a pair of clutch foul shots with 6.7 seconds to play, providing the final difference in the No. 8 Lady Hornets’ 31-29 win over Lorena on Tuesday night at the LHS Gym.
Gatesville (26-1 overall, 6-0 in District 17-4A) had endured an erratic night at the charity stripe prior to Nolte stepping to the line for the team’s final attempts. But Gatesville coach Chris Carroll said he wasn’t worried.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride (shooting free throws) all year,” Carroll said. “We’ll shoot 92 percent one night and shoot 37 the next night. Above 75 percent, then down below 60. But with that kid, when they fouled her, I knew we were up two. She’s that kind of kid. She’s just such a joy to coach.”
Before Tuesday’s battle, only three teams had played Gatesville to within nine points or less. But Lorena (17-6, 3-2), a perennial playoff contender, gave the Lady Hornets all they could handle.
Rodney Gee’s Lady Leopards trailed by five after a 13-point first half, but they awakened in the third quarter. Alana Armstrong popped a 3-pointer coming out of the break, and that seemed to open the floodgates a bit offensively. Lorena matched its entire first-half total in the third quarter, and after Carly Campbell chased down her own miss and swished in a jumper and Sloane Baker navigated the baseline for a layup, the Lady Leopards snatched the lead going into the fourth quarter at 26-23.
Gatesville’s defense has whittled opponents to a fine powder throughout the season. The Lady Hornets make teams work for every basket. But Lorena made sure Gatesville had to bring its lunch boxes, Carroll said.
“I thought all year long that we were the best defensive team in the district, and I’ve got a ton of respect for Lorena. I think they’re the best offensive team in the district,” Carroll said. “It was kind of a clash of wills. You’ve got to hand it to their kids and Coach Gee, they’re so well-coached. Every time that we made a mistake, they’re the kind of team that takes advantage of it.”
Gatesville opened the fourth quarter on a 5-0 run, taking the lead on Alayna Washington’s putback with 4:57 to play. Lorena didn’t fade, and ultimately tied the game at 29 when Armstrong bottomed out a trey from the top of the key with 1:28 to go.
After that shot, Gatesville went into its “Four Corners” offense and looked to hold for the final shot. Nolte managed to draw a foul from Lorena’s Claire Conradt with 6.7 seconds to go, and her freebies pushed the Lady Hornets into the lead to stay.
Lorena rushed the ball upcourt and called timeout with 1.3 ticks on the clock after crossing the half-court line. But the Lady Leopards couldn’t get off a final shot attempt, and came up shy on their bid at the upset.
Lorena’s Armstrong was the only player on either team to hit double digits in the scorebook, finishing with 10 points. Campbell, a returning Super Centex standout, finished with nine.
Nolte led the Lady Hornets with nine points. Lorena held junior post Allaria Jones in check. Jones had scored 20 or more in both of Gatesville’s wins last week, but finished with six points, six rebounds and a blocked shot in this one.
After a long string of blowouts, Carroll hoped that this grind-it-out game would have some lasting benefits for his team in the second half of the district season and into the postseason.
“I think we’ve learned — and it’s easy to say when you’re 26-1 — but I feel like every situation this year, when people have obviously tried to do things to Nolte and Jones to take them away, our kids have learned and reacted and grown from those situations,” the coach said. “We haven’t been in a lot of tight, close games, but the ones we have we’ve been able to do enough.”