Dodd City wears down Saltillo, grinds out 48-27 win in Regional Final
On Saturday, November 14, 2020, the No. 1 Dodd City Lady Hornets began their 2020-21 basketball season in Pattonville against the Class 3A Prairiland Lady Patriots. Dodd City emerged from that contest with a 56-19 victory.
Coming full circle in a big way
Coincidentally, the Lady Hornets (30-0, 10-0) earned the Class 1A Region II Championship in the same gym Tuesday night, this time in a top-5 matchup against the No. 4 Saltillo Lady Lions. The Regional Final was competitive and hard-fought into the third quarter, but the Lady Hornets tired out Saltillo down the stretch as the top-ranked team grinded out a 48-27 win to advance to State for the fourth time in five years.
“Man, I would be embarrassed to say the number of hours of work we’ve put into this,” Lady Hornets head basketball coach Alex Stephenson said. “Last year when we got beat in the Regional Tournament, it was one of the toughest losses we’ve ever had. I told the kids that if you use adversity the right way, it can be a ticket to a place where you can’t go any other way. We didn’t sulk about it, we didn’t make excuses, and it is still fresh on the kids’ minds. They wanted it, they really wanted it. When you’re chasing something and playing for something that is more than just this game right here, there is always an added motivation.”
The road to State is seemingly always an arduous path even if Dodd City has made it a regular part of their season routine for several years. After battling through a heavily-regulated season from COVID-19 restrictions to bowing out to Lipan in the Regional Tournament last season, the Lady Hornets know how special this run has been.
“Well making it to State as it is, it’s extremely special and such an amazing feeling,” Lady Hornets senior post Journie Hilliard said. “We’ve prepared and have been through a lot this year. It’s all just really made us grow and come together as a team, and it really formed a special bond between us. To be able to go to State with Dani (Baccus), who I’ve played with since I’ve been old enough to hold a ball, and the rest of my team — it’s such an amazing feeling.”
Dodd City’s dominance put to the test
The game was close at the start in spite of Dodd City’s overwhelming 42-point average margin of victory. Dodd City set the tone early by pounding the rock inside to the 6-foot-3 Hilliard early and often as she scored the team’s first five points. Saltillo continued to hang tough with back-to-back buckets to close the quarter following two baskets from Lady Hornets sophomore guard Rion Baccus.
After one quarter of play, Dodd City held a slim 9-7 advantage. The Lady Lions limited Dodd City in the second quarter, too, as Saltillo kept Dodd City’s lead at a manageable 22-12 margin as the Lady Hornets tried their luck outside the 3-point arc but experienced a cold shooting stretch.
The Lady Hornets, though, still believed there isn’t a team that can keep them down forever.
“We came into the game knowing how Saltillo was going to play defense on us and how they were going to spread it out on offense,” Dodd City senior guard Dani Baccus said. “We knew they were going to either try to take away our threes or our drives to the basket. So, we knew if they took away our drives, then our threes would be open. Our threes weren’t really falling for us, so it made us switch over to penetrating the paint and driving to the goal more than we usually do. Whatever is working for us is what we rely on more, so we had to spread them out on defense and take the lane.”
The turning point
Dani Baccus countered a 3-pointer from the Lady Lions with an outside shot of her own with 5:24 left in the third quarter to stretch the lead back to double digits at 27-17 when Saltillo cut the deficit to seven points, and the floodgates started to open. The Baccus sisters began to attack the lane relentlessly, which created plenty of high-percentage scoring opportunities inside and outside. Dodd City’s lead ballooned to 37-19 after the big third quarter and the Lady Hornets never looked back in their 21-point victory.
Trusting the process and reaping its benefits
With that, the program is well aware that it takes a village to sustain success. The Lady Hornets are grateful for every ounce of support from different sources to make another potential championship run possible.
“We have great parents, great administration, and great leaders other than myself that push the kids and have high expectations for them. It all starts at home,” Stephenson said. “These kids have high expectations on their own. It isn’t just me holding them accountable for 32 minutes a game.”
Stephenson attributed Dodd City’s impressive level of play and success in big games to the difficult schedules they create, which he said encourages both challenges and failure to provide an opportunity for his team to grow, and the girls do not seem to take that philosophy personally in a negative light through the way they prepare together and care for each other on and off the court.
“This is by far my most favorite group to play with. I’ve loved every other group I’ve played with, but this group has a special bond,” Baccus said. “We have each others’ backs, we trust each other, and we pick each other up. We know that, in the end, everyone wants it as bad as the other, so no one is going to give up or give something away because we are all on the same page.”
“We practice as hard as we can every single day. Even when it was icy outside, our parents were driving us up to the gym so we could get some shots up,” Hilliard said. “We’ve all just been really focused on the game and we all have so much love for the game that we just want to do our best for ourselves and our teammates. We try to give ourselves the best opportunities to do that in games through the way we practice.”
Rion Baccus led the Lady Hornets with 14 points while Dani Baccus scored 13 points. Hilliard added 12 points while Kylee Graves poured in 6 points. Tori Dotson contributed 3 points along with a quality defensive effort. Anna Reeder led the Lady Lions with 11 points.
Down this road before
The Lady Hornets are on the doorstep of another chance to win a State Championship, but the team is only focused on the present moment and current opponent in front of them. Although pleased with the win and their accomplishments thus far, the Lady Hornets know their work is not done yet.
“Our motto has been about one game at a time,” Stephenson said. “We didn’t open up November talking about playing Argyle, and we didn’t talk about the next big game after Argyle. It’s been a day-to-day, game-to-game attitude with us. It will be no different going forward. We are going to get right back to work and get ready for Neches, our State-semi opponent. I’ve learned over time that you have to enjoy the moment and take it day-by-day. We aren’t looking ahead — whoever we get we get and we are going to be ready to go.”
The Lady Hornets will face the Neches Lady Tigers in the State Semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday at Lindale High School. Tickets can be purchased online for $5 apiece by clicking here. For more sports coverage, click here.
TEAM Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 F
Saltillo 7 5 7 8 27
Dodd City 9 13 15 11 48
Saltillo scorers: Reeder, 11; Lane, 6; Wade, 6; Bain, 2; Peeples, 2
Dodd City scorers: R. Baccus, 14; D. Baccus, 13; J. Hilliard, 12; K. Graves, 6; T. Dotson, 3
Saltillo FGM: Reeder, 5; Lane, 2; Wade, 2; Bain, 1; Peeples, 1
Dodd City FGM: R. Baccus, 7; D. Baccus, 5; J. Hilliard, 4; K. Graves, 2; T. Dotson, 1
Saltillo 3PFGM: Lane, 2; Wade, 2
Dodd City 3PFGM: D. Baccus, 2; K. Graves, 2; T. Dotson, 1
Saltillo FT: 1-2; Reeder, 1-2
Dodd City FT: 5-8; J. Hilliard, 4-6; D. Baccus, 1-2