GLEN ROSE — This clash of Texas Class 2A girls basketball titans did not disappoint. Not one bit.
In the garishly garnet confines of Glen Rose’s Tiger Arena Nov. 22, Lipan and Martin’s Mill — a pair of state basketball blue blood programs — faced off in a bruising battle for bragging rights. The Lady Indians prevailed, 60-51, in 32 minutes of hand-to-hand combat in the Thanksgiving Showcase hosted by Glen Rose High School.
It was another notable feather in Lipan’s cap, as a regular-season rematch of Lipan’s thrilling 44-39 victory over Martin’s Mill in last year’s 2A state championship game. The referees let the girls play to howls of protests from a smattering of fans. Echoes of that March morning in San Antonio.
“We like to schedule tough just to help us get better throughout the year,” Lipan head coach Amber Branson said. “(Martin’s Mill) is a powerhouse basketball team. And so we just try to play people that make us better and they're gonna make us better.”
It was evident early how much this matchup meant to both teams.
Lipan started out a bit sloppy, but regained its footing to finish the first half with a 28-24 advantage. Teammate Linsey Little paced the Lady Indians with seven points, aggressively driving to the basket and getting to the free throw line twice. Trinity Benitez dropped in six points, and was a physical presence in the paint. Ashlyn Clark added five, including one from downtown.
The physical play did not bother Benitez.
“I have always been a physical player,” she said. “Getting pushed and shoved is a part of the game and I’ve gotten a lot better at handling the pushes, but I am bruised up today.”
Losing three significant starters from last season — including the length that 2020 senior Maggie Peacock provided in the post — blunted Lipan’s attack.
“We’ve always had a six footer, post kids that we could feed,” Branson said. “So it's just a different dynamic height-wise, but (Trinity) plays equally as hard and does a lot of good things just like the post players have in the past. It's just a different kind of game.”
The familiarity the girls have with each other has helped in the transition.
“It was tough at first to lose our seniors from last year,” Benitez said. “But the fact that I’ve been playing with Lynsey for over 6 years now … that’s a big help.”
Exploiting the undersized Lady Indians in the paint was not really in the game plan for Martin’s Mill.
“Well, you know, to be honest, we play very similar to Lipan, we're more guard oriented,” Martin’s Mill head coach Tommy Cross said. “We do have a little bit of length, but we probably don't use that the way we should all the time.”
As soon as Jada Celsur touched the ball for the Lady Mustangs it was understood exactly what the coach was talking about. The senior point guard for Martin’s Mill pushed the basketball up the court, past Lipan’s press, dishing out to waiting shooters in the wing.
The individual battle between Lipan’s Taylor Branson and Celsur was certainly fun to watch.
Without much size in the post, the Lady Indians now rely on their shooters to make up the difference from beyond the 3-point arc. Taylor Branson’s maturity at point gave Lipan’s attack a potency that cannot be ignored.
Little and Chelsea Lott led Lipan scorers with 17 points apiece, and Benitez added another 11.
The game was an entertaining affair with both teams pushing on offense and pressing on defense.
“They play very well together, and they're very well coached,” Cross said of the Lady Indians. “They've got great guard play. And so I think that's the key for us is to find a way to slow down the guards.”
When Cross talks about the Lipan basketball program, it reeks of respect. It is not surprising since he briefly helped coach the Indians, and his daughter played for Branson.
Cross bounced around the state, and in his telling, “trying to find the, you know, the quote, unquote, job.” Then an assistant coaching position opened up in Lipan.
“We actually took that job and made that move, to put my oldest daughter in a better position,” he said. “And she had a great year. I’d do it again, 100 times over.”
He has had a tremendous run at Martin’s Mill, including a couple of state championship banners.
“I landed on my feet when I got the Martin’s Mill gig. It's been a blessing,” he said. “No doubt. We got six state championships. I've got a couple of those since I've been there. So yeah, it's unreal.”
This is a mutual admiration society between the two coaches.
“(Cross is) a good guy, but he's a great coach,” Branson said. “And, you know, it's one of those games you hate to lose if you do, but, you know, I don't mind losing to him because I have the utmost respect for him and his program.”
This time, it was a relief for coach Branson.