in Girls Basketball

After heartbreaking District 17-3A opening loss in Keene, Clifton Lady Cubs bounce back with key victory over the Grandview Lady Zebras in race without a clear frontrunner

Putting a strong group of experienced players on the court hungry for a trip to the Class 3A state playoffs, the Clifton Lady Cubs hope to make the 2022-23 Texas high school girls basketball season a special one.

Despite suffering a heartbreaking loss in their District 17-3A opener last week, the experienced Clifton Lady Cub girls basketball team showed resilience by bouncing back for a big win. And in the process, the Lady Cubs demonstrated their resolve and determination to return to the Class 3A postseason.

Coming off a convincing 34-28 victory over the Grandview Lady Zebras Dec. 16 in the Clifton High School Gymnasium, the Lady Cubs (1-1 in district, 10-6 overall) will visit the Maypearl Lady Panthers (2-0, 9-9) at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 20 before taking a six-day break for the Christmas holidays. Clifton will resume play by traveling to College Station to take part in the Aggieland Invitation Dec. 27-29.

After trailing Grandview (1-1, 13-5) in the first half, 18-15, the Cubs allowed only 14 points in the final three periods, surrendering only four field goals in the second half.

“The group of girls I have will always show fight no matter what game they come out to play,” Clifton girls basketball head coach Whitney Holdbrook said. “So, it was never a question of how they would bounce back. It was just more of whether we could fix the things that needed to be fixed and learn from them. And the girls came out against Grandview with a lot of defensive energy. That led to some offensive success in the second half.”

Taking the lead with a strong third quarter, the Lady Cubs were able to finish strong to hold off the Lady Zebras as junior Brianna Gonzalez led Clifton with 14 points, followed by junior Laylah Gaona with six, as well as senior April Rowlins and sophomore Kyndall Hunt with four each.

“In the first half, we got open shot but just struggled to make them,” Holdbrook said. “But the girls just stayed consistent throughout the whole game. And they trust that if they can keep the game close, they can pull it out in the end.”

In the district opener at Keene, Clifton fell victim to a three-point buzzer-beater as the Lady Chargers (2-0, 16-3) pulled out a heartbreaking 39-36 victory last Tuesday. In the low-scoring defensive struggle, the Lady Cubs managed to hit on only 24.5 percent of their shots from the field.

After the Lady Cubs opened with a strong first quarter, Keene rallied in the second by outscoring Clifton, 16-6. The Lady Cubs battled back in the third period to carry a one-point lead into the final frame before the dramatic finish.

“We struggled in the fourth quarter making some shots,” Holdbrook said. “And defensively, we let them get off the three-pointer from the corner and they made it. That was a tough way to lose a game. But the girls battled to the very end.”

Rowlins led the Lady Cubs with 15 points, followed by Gonzalez with eight, Gaona with seven and Hunt with six, while senior Carley Caniford dominated the boards with 10 rebounds, dished out four assists and came away with four steals.

Without establishing a clear district frontrunner during the non-district and tournament schedule, the Lady Cubs will battle the Whitney Lady Wildcats (0-2, 8-12) and West Lady Trojans (0-2, 3-10) along with Keene, Grandview and Maypearl for one of the league’s four playoff berths.

“All of the coaches have talked about it, and we agree it could be any one of our teams on any given night,” Holdbrook said. “Our district is going to be very competitive from top to bottom. It’s all up for grabs.

“Our defensive execution has got to be up at this level. It’s going to be a close race athletically between all the teams in the district this year. So, for us to be successful, our defense has to be on point every single night.”

Following an open date Dec. 6, the Lady Cubs dropped their final non-district tune-up at home against the 14th-ranked Lorena Lady Leopards (12-3), 51-28, Dec. 9 at the Clifton High School Gymnasium. But Clifton played without junior Meagan Henderson, who has been lost for the season with a torn ACL.

“It was our first game without Meagan, and we were still trying to figure out things,” Holdbrook said. “The girls responded well. But we started slow and just could not keep up with a really good Lorena team.”

After coming off the Thanksgiving break with an impressive 49-28 home victory over McGregor Nov. 29, the Lady Cubs hit the road and split four games at the highly-competitive Class 4A Hillsboro Tournament Dec. 1-3.

“The girls played hard in this tournament,” Holdbrook said. “We had several girls step up and play new positions. Each game, they improved offensively and defensively.”

Opening the Hillsboro tournament with back-to-back losses to Bosqueville, 52-29, and host Hillsboro, 66-30, Clifton rebounded from the losses for two straight wins by knocking off Hubbard, 40-23, Friday and overwhelming Polytechnic, 47-11, Saturday.

Gaona proved to be the most consistent scorer for the Lady Cubs with 28 total points in the tournament, followed by Gonzalez, who led Clifton with 10 points against Bosqueville, and sophomore Delilah Martinez with a team-high 10 points in the win over Polytechnic. Against McGregor, Gonzalez tossed in a team-high 17 points, followed by Gaona with 14 and Martinez with eight.

“They worked well together on defense,” Holdbrook said. “Offensively, they found a rhythm together early and kept it the entire game.”

Embarking on a six-game winning streak to produce a fast start to the season, the Lady Cub jumped out to a 10-point first-quarter lead against Jarrell and cruised to an impressive 60-51 victory on the road Nov. 11. Gonzalez led Clifton with 15 points, followed by Gaona with 13 and Henderson with 12.

The Lady Cubs followed up the season opener with wins over Valley Mills, 53-49, Waxahachie Life, 38-15, and Anderson-Shiro, 60-41, before hosting the Clifton Tournament Nov. 17-19. After winning the first two games of their tournament, the Lady Cubs finally came up short in back-to-back losses to Franklin, 47-37, and Class 4A Robinson, 44-25.

“I was really impressed with how the girls played their first games of the season,” Holdbrook said. “For a lot of the team, this is their third season playing together and that has shown on the court early.”


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