It only took 49 seconds for Mesquite girls basketball coach Candice Gonzales to bring up Highland in her postgame interview Wednesday night.
While the No. 15 Wildcats needed a late run to fend off No. 18 Marcos de Niza, 60-50, in the first round of the Division I state tournament at Mesquite, it’s clear the team is not content with one playoff victory.
Mesquite will get another chance at the vaunted Hawks in the second round on Saturday, just ten days after nearly upsetting them in the section tournament.
“It’s been forever since this group of girls has ever felt that feeling against Highland," Gonzales said. "We were right there... For the most part it’s about getting there and believing.”
Getting there certainly wasn’t easy.
The game against the Padres was tied at 44 with 4:46 remaining until Mesquite freshman Issy Spruit banked in a 3-pointer to kickstart a 9-2 run.
Marcos de Niza took advantage of three straight turnovers to cut the deficit to four points with 1:07 remaining, but a runner by Sophia Anaya which would have sliced the lead to one possession lipped out, and Mesquite was 6-for-6 on free throws in the final minute to pull away.
“Our girls fight until the end,” Marcos de Niza coach Jermaine Whitaker said. “That’s one thing we pride ourselves on, never giving up.”
Cecily Wilson had 16 points, eight rebounds and five steals to lead the way, Rebecca Tilley added 11 points, while Spruit, Alexis Springfield and Ashley Alexander each contributed nine points for the Wildcats.
Anaya and Jorie Mayfield had 11 points each to lead the Padres, while Sydnie Lengyel added 10 points and seven rebounds.
Highland, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, has beaten Mesquite in both of their matchups this season, but the Wildcats led by nine points midway through the fourth quarter on Feb. 5 before falling, 42-41.
Even though Mesquite lost, Gonzales said the experience is important heading into this postseason rematch.
“They know they can do it, and that’s half the battle with these teams,” Gonzales said. “They hear ‘Highland’, and they’re so successful every year, that it’s hard to think you can actually come out and beat them. When you get that close, and you’re up by 10 with three minutes left in the game, you know you can do it.”