SAN ANTONIO — The night before his team would play in its first-ever state tournament game, Lawrence Gullette experienced a fitful night in bed.
He tossed. He turned. Even the sleep he managed to get was interrupted too soon, as he awoke at 5 a.m. on Thursday dreaming that he was late and scrambling to check his itinerary.
Ultimately, though, that’s how it is for Gullette the night before most games.
“I just got up and tried to prepare for the game, watched extra video and stuff like that,” the Marlin girls basketball coach said. “We’re still going to stick to what we do, try not to be so tight, try not to get caught up in the moment, and just be who we are.”
Good plan. If Marlin’s players had any anxiousness about their state tournament debut, they didn’t show it. The Lady Bulldogs ripped out to a first-quarter lead and never relinquished their stranglehold on it in a 59-42 victory over Vanderbilt Industrial in the Class 3A state semifinals on Thursday afternoon before a crowd of 3,687 at the Alamodome.
Marlin (32-8) moves on to play for the program’s first state title in the 3A final against Mount Vernon (27-9) at 10 a.m. Saturday. Mount Vernon defeated perennial powerhouse Brock, 46-37, in the other 3A semifinal game.
Like a Ferrari racing down the left lane of Toll Road 130, Marlin made the Cobras (34-6) play chase. The Lady Bulldogs accelerated the ball up the court at every opportunity, and Industrial struggled to keep pace.
“Marlin’s a heck of a team. They’re fast,” Industrial coach Shannon Taylor said. “We don’t necessarily see that kind of speed, and hadn’t seen that kind of speed in the playoffs. It was just a little something that we had a hard time adapting to at times.”
Taylor said that his team practiced against the Industrial boys team in order to try to prepare for Marlin’s quickness, “But you can’t really simulate it,” he said. “We just need to find a few more boys next time.”
It wasn’t necessarily a transcendent game for Marlin junior guard Mystique Womack, who generally is the best player on most courts. Womack scored a game-high 21 points, but her jumper wasn’t clicking, as she hit just 8-of-24 from the floor and committed nine turnovers.
Yet Womack still impacted the game like a sledgehammer — amassing 10 rebounds, four steals and eight assists, finishing just two dishes short of a triple-double.
“I always try to involve the team,” Womack said. “But when I can’t score, I feel like can do a little move and dish it, because there’s always somebody open, coming down the floor or in the corner.”
Industrial senior guard Reagan Doyle was one of the players given the near-impossible task of slowing down Womack, and she was just glad she didn’t end up on Mystique’s personal highlight reel. Asked how Womack compared to other players she’d guarded in the playoffs, Doyle said, “She doesn’t. Just being honest. I didn’t fall, so at least that’s good.”
Attacking the basket with energy, Marlin pounced to a 21-14 lead after a quarter. The Lady Bulldogs were able to extend the gap into double digits three minutes into the second after a putback from senior DyNeshia Bailey, who tallied 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Bailey displayed a veteran’s steady touch throughout the game. She nailed a 3-pointer off a feed from Womack, and then added a scoop on a drive to the basket in the waning moments of the first half to push the Marlin lead to 37-22 at the break.
Industrial made its pushes here and there, mostly by pursuing offensive rebounds with fervor. The Cobras grabbed 17 offensive boards overall, though Marlin won the total rebounding battle, 47-34. Three Lady Bulldogs snatched double-digit boards, led by sophomore Danielle Nobles with 16.
Though it wasn’t Womack’s most sizzling shooting effort, she still wowed the crowd on occasion. The Lady Bulldogs opened the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run thanks to a Mystique-sprinkled run that included her dropping off a pretty bounce pass in traffic to a cutting Bailey for a bucket, drilling a deep trey, and then picking an Industrial ballhandler’s pocket and scooting in for a layup.
Marlin also harassed the Cobras into just 26.7 percent shooting for the game, a source of pride to Gullette. No Industrial player hit half her shots, and Kylann Griffith was the only one to reach double figures in scoring with 12. “That’s something that we stress. It’s like I told the girls a few games ago, our defense actually dictates our offense,” Gullette said.
At the end, Marlin was content to spread the floor and dribble out the last minute of play, while a bunch of barking fans that Gullette calls “Bulldog Nation” voiced their approval.
One more win, and they’re liable to blow the roof off the Alamodome.
“It’s just not being satisfied,” Gullette said. “Not being satisfied. As a coach, I don’t think I’ve ever felt OK going into any game at all. … But we just have to be who we are.”