CORPUS CHRISTI – Entering Monday’s Region IV-4A quarterfinal matchup, Tuloso-Midway Cherokees basketball coach Hector Serna knew he would need a stellar defensive effort from his squad if they were to advance to the regional tournament for the first time since 2008.
Serna got just that, and that’s just where T-M is going.
The Cherokees forced 31 turnovers and held Mercedes to 13 of 63 shooting as they triumphed 50-37 at Carroll’s Cantu Gymnasium.
“We knew that Mercedes had become a better team since the last time we played them,” said Serna, whose team defeated the Tigers 58-24 at the Pride of Texas Tournament on Dec. 13. “We knew we had to step up defensively because they scored 62 points on Medina Valley (in the area round), so they must’ve done something really well…That’s what we’ve been doing. In bi-district and area, our defense has been carrying us. The girls have really stepped up defensively.”
T-M set the defensive tone early. Lexi Ruiz – who had four of her six points in the first quarter – converted the sixth Mercedes turnover of the night to give the Cherokees an 8-1 advantage at the 3:53 mark of the opening frame.
The Tigers missed their first nine field goal attempts before knocking in a 3-pointer with 1:46 remaining to cut the deficit to 10-5. Mercedes pulled within 10-8 to end the quarter, finishing on a 7-2 run.
A bucket by Daniela Macias extended T-M’s edge to 21-15 with under three minutes in the first half before Deidra Barroso responded with a three-point play.
The Cherokees went into the locker room with a 25-21 lead after forcing 18 turnovers.
Emma Gray knocked down a free throw midway through the third quarter, completing a 7-2 stretch as T-M’s defense continued to wreak havoc. The Cherokees were on top 32-25 before a trio of baskets from beyond the arc ended the period.
Lauren Turner – who had a team-high 13 points – swished a triple from the left wing to start the 3-point shootout with 58 ticks left. Barroso answered on the next possession before Miranda Jimenez responded right back to make it 38-28 going into the final eight minutes.
The Tigers would not get the deficit below double digits, starting 0 of 9 from the field in the final stanza as T-M went up by as many as 16 points.
A game after hitting seven 3-pointers en route to 25 points, senior Cami Horman drew heavy attention from Mercedes, opening up opportunities for her teammates. Horman scored seven points – one of six Cherokees with at least five – as T-M utilized a balanced attack.
“I know a lot of teams focus on Cami because of the fact that she’s a deadly 3-point shooter,” Serna said. “We told the girls, ‘If they put too much pressure on Cami, you other girls are going to have to come in and step up.’ And that’s exactly what they did.”
With the win, T-M’s magical run continues.
“I never thought that we’d be in the regional tournament,” Serna said. “The girls know that we’ve been bi-district champions the past three years, and they wanted to go beyond that.”
The Cherokees certainly have surpassed expectations, and could be awaiting a meeting with San Antonio Brennan – the No. 1-ranked team in the state – in the regional semifinals 6 p.m. Friday at the Blossom Athletic Center in SA.
“We’ve got our hands full, but we’re ready for the challenge,” Serna said. “We’re going to the Sweet 16, baby.”