BELTON — Everybody’s working for the weekend, right?
China Spring worked for it — and then some. And now it’ll live to play on the weekend.
Behind some savvy leadership — and clutch free throw shooting — from their seniors, the Lady Cougars gutted out a 52-46 double-overtime win over Burnet in the Region III-4A quarterfinals on Tuesday night at Belton’s Tiger Gym. China Spring (29-8) moves on to the regional tournament at Sam Houston State’s Johnson Coliseum in Huntsville, where it will face the winner of Silsbee and Houston Yates at 8 p.m. Friday.
“We had to work, but I felt like it was a great team we were working against,” China Spring coach Kristi Mize said. “They were prepared, I thought they were scrappy, I knew they were going to be getting after us on defense, and I knew that they were going to hold our composure. For the most part, we did.
“We had a few times where we shot too quick. But then a couple times we shoot quick and Abbie (Snyder) makes it. They know (when to shoot) a lot of times. I’m so proud of our girls, just so proud of our girls.”
This wasn’t even a four-quarter battle, it was a six-quarter, all-out war. China Spring had opportunities to try to pull out the win in regulation and again at the end of the first overtime period, spreading the ball and working for an open look. But Burnet (22-14) held firm, and the score stayed deadlocked.
In the second overtime period, however, China Spring’s senior point guard Alex Perkins refused to let her team’s season end. Perkins danced through Burnet’s defense for a driving layup at the start of the period, and the Lady Cougars never trailed again. Perkins scored eight of her team’s nine points in the period, and finished with a game-high 19.
In the early stages of the contest, China Spring kept the ball moving with wrist-flicking velocity, and Burnet scrambled to keep pace. The Lady Cougars bounced out to an 8-2 lead after Gabby Cleveland set up her senior teammate Taylor Webb for a bucket with a tasty feed in the paint.
Burnet had no answer for Cleveland’s energy in the first quarter. The versatile senior attacked the glass as if it had stolen her homework on her way to snatching eight first-half rebounds. But when Cleveland picked up her second foul a little more than a minute in the second quarter and headed to the bench, the tenor of the game changed.
“When she gets that second foul early, it just puts her on hold a little bit,” Mize said. “She tries to be careful after that, and she’s not playing with abandon like usual. Then I put her back in and she got that little trip foul or whatever, but she still did a great job. We’re better with her in there.”
Cleveland sat for much of the second quarter, and the Lady Cougars’ offense grew stagnant. They scored only six points in the quarter, and Burnet used that lull to trim a once six-point China Spring lead down to two by the halftime break, following a corner 3-pointer from Caitlynn Graves.
The score remained nip and tuck the rest of the way. Burnet tried to ride the back of its senior post Maria Escamilla, who scratched her way to 14 points despite China Spring’s Summer Emblem riding her hip pocket all night.
Meanwhile, China Spring’s Snyder should have had a stick shift protruding from her back, because she was just that clutch. The senior guard swished in five 3-pointers on the night — including several from Steph Curry range — and nailed two of those treys in the first overtime period, when China Spring desperately needed a bucket. Snyder finished with 15 points.
“She hit some huge threes. She was ready to be a senior tonight,” Mize said. “She wanted that senior leadership. She and Summer had the hardest defensive jobs tonight, and then she still hit some threes. That number 11 (Taylor Moore), she’s a great shooter, and she held her to one three. So she usually gets the hard defensive task.”
Cleveland finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds, while sophomore guard Kendall Richards nabbed five big second-half boards to go with a couple of key steals.
One of those steals resulted in a particularly wild sequence in the second OT. Richards reached up to tap away and corral an errant Burnet pass, but the Lady Dawgs ripped the ball away from China Spring as it was heading upcourt. Then Perkins played pickpocket herself, stealing it back before drawing a foul and hitting a pair of free throws that put China Spring up 50-46 with 59 seconds left.
After the final horn sounded, the Lady Cougars celebrated with a vocal throng of their fans and then posed for photos with their regional quarterfinal trophy. Getting a chance to play on the second weekend of the playoffs is sweet for any team, and China Spring is no different.
“Very sweet, very sweet. This was a good one,” Mize said. “This close one was better than the other two, because I felt like they were a really good team and we beat a good team. Not that the other teams weren’t. I’m excited. We’ve got another week.”