If you’re a high school basketball team wanting to reach the UIL state tournament, you’re going to travel by bus, not by motorcycle.
Translation — it takes a team.
Marlin junior Mystique Womack stands out as one of the best players in the state. It’s apparent to anyone who watches the Lady Bulldogs play. But Womack doesn’t have to carry the load all by herself, as her teammates showed in Friday’s 69-46 victory over Hitchcock in the Region III-3A semifinals at the Midway High School arena.
Womack entered the night averaging 38.7 points per game in the playoffs. Hitchcock (34-7) limited her to “only” 25, but she had plenty of help to spur a Marlin rout.
“Every girl embraces her role, and everyone is willing to step up at any time,” Marlin coach Lawrence Gullette said. “I think that’s what makes it a challenge to kind of prepare for us. As I stated early in the year, it’s not just what we do to prepare for teams, but I feel that we’re good enough where teams have to prepare for us as well.
“So we’re going to stick to what we do, and work on what we do well, as well as tweak some things here and there. But as long as the effort and attitude are there, I think we have a really good chance.”
If Marlin (30-8) plays like it did against Hitchcock, just getting to the state tournament may be the least of its aspirations. Gullette’s team bounced out to a 19-7 lead after one quarter of play, with every player contributing in some way to the fun. Forwards Aniya Williams and Danielle Nobles cleaned up many of Marlin’s misses around the basket by relentlessly attacking the glass, senior guard DyNeisha Bailey made some plays breaking down the Hitchcock defense off the dribble, and sophomore guard Keirrae Davis displayed a deadly shooting touch whenever Hitchcock cheated off of her and left her open.
“At the start, I think a couple of players were a little nervous, but once they got knocked around a little bit and got that first foul, it kind of woke them up,” Gullette said. “But I definitely got out of them what I wanted in the first half.”
Womack occasionally struggled with her shot, especially from 3-point range. But the junior is so fast and elusive, and such an exceptional ballhandler, that teams struggle to contain her forever.
She also showed a savvy patience whenever Marlin found itself in an inbounds situation under its own basket. Williams and Nobles were the beneficiaries of a handful of nifty passes from Womack, sliding free for easy layups.
Womack even managed to call her own number on an inbounds play in the second half. With nobody open, she simply tossed the ball off the back of a Hitchcock defender and then retrieved it before eventually scoring.
“That’s something we’ve been doing, and we’ve had some time to work on some things,” Gullette said. “It’s tweaking things here and there, and understanding the options that they have. Everything we do, we try to have more than just one option. And so they saw that tonight.”
Davis swished in four 3-pointers on the night, including a bank shot, and finished with 13 points, one of four Marlin players to crack double figures. Nobles also scored 13, Williams had 10 and Bailey finished with eight.
Marlin pushed the lead past 20 when Williams scored on a putback in the third quarter. Hitchcock never really threatened with any extended rallies, despite a few nice plays from its senior backcourt of Tavianna Daniels (17 points) and Irish Winn (15).
Marlin will play Grandview for the Region III-3A title at 1 p.m. Saturday at Midway. Grandview defeated Woodville, 45-33, in Friday’s other semifinal.
Gullette said that his team will try to lean on its memories of tournaments earlier in the season, as it plays on back-to-back days. He hopes his team will be ready for anything, even if Grandview sends multiple defenders in Womack’s direction like Hitchcock did.
“They really keyed in on Mystique, so she made plays for other people,” Gullette said. “That’s why I think she’s definitely a dynamic player, one of the best players in the state, in my opinion.”