Gritty Tompkins escapes Stratford in OT to advance to regional quarters

Gritty Tompkins escapes Stratford in OT to advance to regional quarters (Copyright (c) 2022 VYPE - All rights reserved)

KATY—Thirty-eight games into the season, Tompkins’ girls basketball team is still searching for its identity. The defense is leaky. The offense is discombobulated.

But, despite all that, the Falcons keep winning. On Friday evening, Tompkins won its second straight overtime playoff game, eluding Stratford, 57-51, in their Class 6A area game at the Merrell Center.

The Falcons are 35-3, the most wins in program history. And yet not all is right.

“We’re still struggling,” coach Tamatha Ray said. “I think there’s cracks in our zone (defensively), and once you get this far, people are going to figure it out. The thing about that particular defense is the 3-ball has to go in, and it was for them. Offensively, we’ve got to do better. Their game-plan is going to be to take (junior guard) Macy (Spencer) out, and then taking (senior guard) Brooklynn (Nash) out. We had opportunities, but we missed layups, putbacks. When your top players are being taken out, the little buckets have to go in, and they didn’t.”

And, still, Tompkins is back in the regional quarterfinals for a rematch with Dulles on Tuesday. For all the issues, the Falcons did what they had to do to win.

“This team loves to fight,” Spencer said. “Even in tough situations, we always pull through. We have a lot of grit, and we have what it takes.”

With Stratford’s seven 3s taking advantage of Tompkins’ zone defense early and often, the Spartans, the fourth seed out of District 17-6A, kept close throughout until late in the game, when the Falcons switched to a man defense.

Tompkins went on a quick 8-0 spree between the third and fourth quarters to lead 43-34 with 6:06 left in regulation before Stratford stormed back to tie it, 47-47, on Jasmine Green’s spinning loft shot with 6.9 seconds left.

But the Falcons, even with Spencer being face-guarded and Nash gimpy on an ailing knee, had one more run in them, eventually putting Stratford away for good. Tompkins made 10-of-10 free throws in the extra period and held the Spartans to four points.

The Falcons held George Ranch to four points in overtime in their bi-district playoff game Tuesday.

“Honestly, we’re used to it by now,” said Nash, who had a game-high 21 points and is averaging 19 points in the postseason. “We know what to do and we know how to handle it and we know what needs to get done at the end of the day.”

With another defense determined to take away Spencer, who was scoreless in the first half and was face-guarded the entire second half and overtime, Nash was, again, heroic.

She scored 10 points in the first half and six in the fourth quarter and overtime.

“I know I need to step up, and I know I have to step up if we’re going to continue to go far and win in the playoffs,” Nash said. “I know any game could be my last game. I’m going to play my hardest and go all out for the entire 32 minutes.”

Ray said Nash is simply taking over.

“She understands the mortality of her senior year. She doesn’t want it to end,” Ray said. “She’s a quiet leader in practice and the locker room, but once she gets on the court, you can’t help but follow that kid.”

Spencer is the Falcons’ leading scorer, able to score effortlessly at all three levels because of her size and ballhandling skills. But in the playoffs, George Ranch and Stratford have made admirable efforts to limit her touches and, at the very least, keep her from getting into a rhythm.

Spencer has had her moments. She scored 21 against George Ranch and 15 against Stratford, including nine in the fourth quarter and overtime. But she is still learning how to counter the invasive defenses thrown her way.

“It’s been hard. I’m not used to it,” said Spencer, who made her impact elsewhere with seven steals, five rebounds, and four assists. “(Assistant) Coach (Robert) Ownby and Coach Ray are telling me to make a lot of cuts, back cuts, and people will set screens. I’m learning this year what all that’s like. I’ve been getting mentally tougher.”

Ray said it’s been a process helping the precocious Spencer through the frustration.

“She’s never had that in-your-face defense before,” Ray said. “We’ve got to do a better job helping her with what she’s supposed to do, and she’s got to learn. Standing and waiting for the ball to come to you isn’t going to be the answer.”

The Falcons are optimistic they can figure it out. They are not playing their best basketball and are out of sorts in a lot of ways, but they’re winning.

Surviving and advancing.

“I love the fight,” Ray said. “The guts, the grit. That’s definitely something I can’t coach into them. They’ve got that piece, and as long as they have that, we can keep going. They believe in each other.”