SAN ANTONIO — At the end of any state championship game, everyone on the court cries. Winners and losers alike.
Unfortunately for the La Vega Lady Pirates, theirs were tears of disappointment rather than streams of joy.
Argyle used a second-half surge to gain some separation, forcing La Vega to play chase the rest of the way.
Though the Lady Pirates made it interesting with a second-half flurry, they couldn’t complete the comeback as Argyle took a 53-43 victory in the Class 4A girls state basketball final Saturday night before a crowd of 4,594 at the Alamodome.
Outside of its district opponents, La Vega (33-3) knew few teams any better than Argyle. Two years ago, the Lady Pirates defeated the Eagles to complete a perfect state championship season. Last year, Argyle exacted a measure of payback in the state semifinals.
In the rubber match, Argyle’s execution and hot shooting – the Eagles (35-1) ripped the nets at 58.6 percent compared to 31.8 percent for the Lady Pirates – created too tall of a hill to climb.
“Fundamentally, they’re very sound,” La Vega coach Jeff Jefferson said. “They have a system and they run the system to a tee. . . . You have to be on your Ps and Qs your whole time, and you have to be really alert.
“We did some good things stopping them tonight, but we got ourselves in a hole. That made it a little tough to get out of. It was just one of those nights where didn’t shoot the basketball very well.”
La Vega leans heavily on its senior star Calveion Landrum, and her shot fell short much of the night.
Landrum scored 21 points to lead the Lady Pirates as their only double-figure scorer, but hit on just 8-of-23 from the field, including 1-for-11 from behind the 3-point arc.
And most of those were way beyond the arc – as Landrum launched at least eight shots from 28 to 30 feet.
Argyle coach Skip Townsend said that he challenged senior Olivia Gray to cut off Landrum’s drives as much as possible — and Gray responded.
“I told Olivia that you’re not going to stop her from scoring,” Townsend said. “But you’ve got to stay between her and the basket. Our team has got to stop Landrum, because nobody in Texas can stop her one-on-one. She’s a phenomenal player.
“Olivia is one of our top defensive players, and she did what we told her to do tonight. She stayed between her and the basket. She got some points, but they were tough points. The points she got were amazing shots she had to make.”
One of those amazing shots came on Landrum’s lone 3-point try that found the net. Argyle opened up as much as a 13-point lead in the third quarter with hot-potato passing that led to a number of wide-open looks.
But at the end of the quarter, Landrum stroked a 30-footer at the buzzer to pull the Lady Pirates within 39-32.
Momentum at least seemed to be on La Vega’s side, though Landrum said afterward that she never felt fully comfortable.
“No, I didn’t feel like it was coming. My shot just wasn’t on today,” she said, shaking her head. “I didn’t have the feel today.”
In the fourth quarter, Landrum was able to pierce Argyle’s defense with more regularity. The Lady Pirates pulled as close as 44-38 on her runner in the lane two minutes into the quarter.
But two minutes later, she was whistled for a charge on a driving layup, and La Vega never recovered. Late in the game, Argyle milked the clock by playing keep-away, and the Lady Pirates were forced to play the foul game.
What La Vega wasn’t expecting was for Argyle to shoot with such a blazing touch from the perimeter. It forced the Lady Pirates’ hand defensively, as they abandoned their half-court zone defense early in the game.
“Our plan was to stay in that 2-3 zone a little bit longer to avoid some early foul trouble,” Jefferson said. “But Argyle came out shooting the lights out. So we had to switch defenses and go to more of a full-court man. Which enabled us to get back in the game, but also created some foul situations for us.”
Townsend said that Argyle’s mission is always to feed the post, go inside-out on offense. But this team, more than most recent Eagle incarnations, had the ability to drain the long ball, hitting 3 of 4 from deep against La Vega.
“We have an inside game, we like to go inside and shoot the close-range shot,” Townsend said. “But a lot of teams know that. They start playing to make us shoot outside, and it’s a mistake this year.
“A lot of teams have paid for that by telling us we couldn’t shoot the ball outside, because we’ve beaten a lot of teams with our 3s. We’re a different team. We can score it inside and outside, and I think La Vega found out tonight.”
Both teams demonstrated crisp passing in a well-executed opening quarter. Argyle used a patient, toss-it-around approach to try to find holes in the La Vega defense, while the Lady Pirates’ backcourt of Odision Miles and Landrum proved adept and breaking down Argyle off the dribble before dumping off to open teammates.
La Vega took a 13-12 lead after one quarter, thanks to a swift drive through traffic by Landrum that resulted in a scoop layup.
But in the second, Argyle pulled out ahead, fueled by the heady play of sophomore guard Gabby Standifer, who finished with 18 points and nine rebounds. Standifer was named the championship game MVP following Argyle’s win.
Vivian Gray contributed 15 points and five boards in her final high school game, and Madison Ralston added 10 for the Eagles.
Ta’Naiya Norwood was the beneficiary of several sweet passes from Miles and Landrum, hitting 4-of-4 from the field for eight points and a team-best seven rebounds for La Vega.
Despite the defeat, Jefferson couldn’t help but swell with pride when reflecting on his team. Three straight trips to state isn’t easy to do, no matter what the outcome.
“I’m very proud of this team,” Jefferson said. “We lost quite a bit last year due to graduation. I think we overachieved, we did a lot. We didn’t have a deep bench, but we had a couple of role players who would come in and rest these ladies.”
Each year at the state tournament, the UIL celebrates state championship teams from 10 years prior as its “honor teams.” At halftime of the La Vega game, China Spring’s 2006 state title team was recognized. That squad, coached by current Midway coach Teresa Durham, went 34-4 and beat Abilene Wylie, 57-54, in the Class 3A state final.