SAN ANTONIO – Not all tears taste the same.
Some go down bitter, and some are sweet. Some sobs are prompted by overwhelming joy. Others, not so much.
Both teams in Saturday’s Class 3A girls basketball state championship game left the court crying. But unlike Mount Vernon, the girls from Marlin couldn’t muster a smile to accompany their wet cheeks.
Mount Vernon sophomore TyRaven Linwood sank two of the biggest shots of her life in a 40-second span of the fourth quarter, and the Tigers topped Marlin, 51-47, in the 3A title game at the Alamodome. Marlin’s best season in school history ends with a 32-9 record and a state runner-up finish.
Naturally, it wasn’t the trophy the Lady Bulldogs really wanted.
“I told the girls yesterday, how many games have we lost this year? If you think about it, none,” Marlin coach Lawrence Gullette said. “That was our first loss in (the calendar year of) 2018. In 2018, that was our first loss.
“I’m proud of them, with the effort they displayed, the composure they kept. It’s tough. It’s a tough situation, but at the end of the day I couldn’t be more proud of the effort and the grind that they demonstrated throughout this entire season.”
The game unfolded as a tenacious tug-of-war for the state championship trophy. Marlin would yank one way and seemingly get an edge, only to see Mount Vernon pull back with extra grit.
The score was tied at 43 with less than four minutes to play when the Tigers (28-9) finally pulled free and clear for good. Linwood, a sophomore reserve who head coach Brad Lloyd labeled as a “guard-slash-forward-slash-post,” found herself open behind the top of the arc, and launched a shot that banked off the glass and in. On the next trip down, Linwood slid past her defender and flicked up a floater and scored, giving Mount Vernon a 48-43 edge.
Those two shots proved to be the biggest of the game, and were inspired by Linwood’s memory. Last year, she watched her cousin MyShaila Stanton weep bitterly when Mount Vernon lost in the state semifinals, and she didn’t want another group of departing seniors to experience that feeling.
“I was like, ‘I have to do something to put us back on the board to win,’” said Linwood, who was voted MVP of the 3A state final. “I didn’t want to see the seniors go out with a loss. I was like, ‘I have to do something to make them win.’”
At the start of the day, Marlin didn’t waste a tick of the clock before firing from the perimeter. After a Mount Vernon turnover, Mystique Womack launched a deep 3-point bomb that touched nothing but net just 33 seconds into the game.
But Mount Vernon wasn’t rattled. The Tigers executed their motion offense with minimal mistakes in the early going to free themselves for open looks against Marlin’s defense. Mount Vernon responded to Womack’s initial bomb with an 8-0 run, mostly on open jump shots.
On the other end the Tigers utilized a sagging zone defense, and Marlin was content to fire away from long range. Eventually, the Lady Bulldogs started hitting the target with more regularity. DyNeisha Bailey drained a corner 3-pointer and another trey from the wing – both thanks to sweet setups from Womack – and Marlin pushed ahead to a 14-13 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The score remained nip-and-tuck, even if it wasn’t the smoothest first half for Marlin. Mount Vernon knocked down 58 percent of its first-half shots, while Marlin converted only 33 percent of its attempts. And yet after Danielle Nobles knocked down a pair of free throws with 52.7 seconds left before the halftime break, the Lady Bulldogs trailed by only one point, 24-23.
“They started out in a zone and we were getting some easy looks. Then they went to a man, and they’re real athletic and they were right up on us,” said Lloyd, the Mount Vernon coach. “We had a hard time getting the movement we’d like to have in terms of our players screening and getting the ball moving from side to side.”
Marlin made some adjustments in the third quarter, and in the process shot out to the biggest lead of the game. Womack chased down a loose ball for a steal and breakaway layup, then bottomed out a 3-pointer off a nice delivery from senior DyNeisha Bailey. After Nobles snatched an offensive rebound and dropped in a putback while drawing a foul, the Lady Bulldogs seemed to be rolling, up 35-26.
“We put a little more pressure on the ball, to try to force the tempo a little bit,” Gullette said. “But it’s kind of tough. It’s kind of like a Catch-22 when we do that, because it speeds us up as well. We wanted to take a little bit of air out of the ball from time to time, evaluate each possession.
“But one thing I don’t think we did tonight, we didn’t really get to the free throw line. That kind of threw us off a little bit. Normally we’re able to maintain our leads by knocking down free throws down the stretch. We just didn’t get to the line today.”
Marlin made just eight trips to the charity stripe compared to Mount Vernon’s 13, but actually knocked down six free throws to the Tigers’ five.
Down the stretch, the Tigers just got better looks – and they cashed in on them. In addition to Linwood, Mount Vernon’s Samantha Lowry and Annie Coffey also buried clutch 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, once Marlin fell behind, it rushed shots to try to catch up – and eventually had to resort to fouling to stop the clock and preserve time. The Lady Bulldogs hit just 4 of 17 shots in the fourth quarter (23.5 percent), including 1-for-9 from 3-point range.
Womack scored 21 points to lead all players, and chipped in three assists and two steals. But the smooth junior guard’s day ended sooner than she would have hoped, as she fouled out with 44 seconds remaining and Marlin trailing by three at the time.
The senior Bailey scored 10 points and nabbed two steals for the Lady Bulldogs, while Nobles turned in a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards.
Senior post Alissa Hill scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds for Mount Vernon. Coffey added 12 points, and Linwood scored 11 off the bench.
Bailey is one of just three Marlin seniors and the only senior starter. Asked about what her backcourt mate meant to the Lady Bulldogs’ run to state, a choked-up Womack said, “Her being my teammate for three years, she means so much to me. I’m just glad it ended like this (in the state championship game). I mean, I’m still proud, because we made it this far. No one ever did that. I’m just glad, because we made history. I’m still proud, but it’s not the situation we wanted to end it.”
The Mount Vernon players didn’t mince words. Last year’s loss at the state tournament definitely stuck with them over the offseason, serving to stoke their fire for another run.
Marlin’s Gullette wants his team to follow a similar path.
“You belong. You belong,” Gullette said. “I told them, we’ve already made history. But at the end of the day, don’t feel like that you don’t belong. Honestly, as I look back on the season, this is the second 3A team to beat us this season, only the second.
“It comes at a tough time, and I get it, but it’s like I told them before we left the court, ‘We’ll be back.’ I feel like we’ll be back. This feeling, it hurts, but I want them to use that as motivation to go out this summer and work out and get back even more prepared.”