By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

GRAPELAND – While the Grapeland Sandies are working towards their ninth consecutive district title, for the Grapeland Sandiettes, it’s been awhile. Let’s just say Prince was partying like it was 1999 and Bill Clinton was president the last time they hoisted the district championship trophy.

Kenya Woods

Make no mistake, the Sandiettes have had some really good teams since then and are postseason perennials. Even with all their past success, however, the Grapeland girls had not laid claim to the moniker of “district champs” in basketball since the turn of the century.

That all changed on Tuesday night, Feb. 7 as the Sandiettes defeated the Centerville Lady Tigers by a score of 60-48 and claimed the title of 2016-2017 District 20-2A Champs.

As the game got underway, the Sandiettes displayed a few nerves and fell behind by six by the end of the first quarter. The Lady Tigers’ size and physicality in the paint allowed the visitors to open up a six point lead over Grapeland.

Centerville’s Hannah Matthews paced the Lady Tigers with five, first quarter points. Sara Stutzman dropped in a three and four other Lady Tigers – Raylynn Brewer, Tara Goolsby, Averi Hancock along with Brittany West – all had two. Tori Tollett converted one of two from the charity stripe to round out the Centerville first period point production.

The Sandiettes’ scoring came from a Ragan Bowie 3-pointer and twos from Hannah Chipman, KeKe Harris, DeDe McKnight and Kenya Woods.

Early in the second quarter, it appeared as if the Lady Tigers’ were going to pull away from the Sandiettes as Centerville opened up a 10 point lead. Makayla Neubauer dropped in six for the Lady Tigers while Brewer added two and Tollett added a free throw.

Jenna Lawrence

After falling behind by double digits, the Sandiettes began to chip away at the Centerville lead and whittled it down to three, 26-23, by the end of the half. Tatiyanna Bowie put up four in the quarter while R. Bowie hit her second 3-pointer of the game.  Chipman and Woods both contributed two points while Harris made one of two from the line to close out the Grapeland first half scoring.

It was Senior Night on Tuesday and the Sandiettes honored GHS senior Jenna Lawrence during a half-time ceremony before resuming play in the second half.

After the halftime festivities concluded, Grapeland took the court with what appeared to be a renewed sense of determination on both the offensive and defensive sides of the court. The Sandiettes held the Lady Tigers to six points in the third period on a 3-pointer from Stutzman, a two from West and a free throw from Tollett.

Meanwhile, Grapeland came roaring back to seize control of the game and took a 29-28 lead at the 4:39 mark of the third. The Sandiettes ramped up their defensive intensity and pushed the lead out to 37-32 by the end of the period. T. Bowie dropped in five, R. Bowie netted her third 3-pointer of the night as both Harris and McKnight chipped in a basket to stake the Sandiettes to a five point lead with eight minutes left to play.

Hannah Chipman

Grapeland could sense the district title was within their grasp and opened up a 10-point lead with 5:58 left to play. The Lady Tigers battled back, however, and cut the lead to five at the 3:24 mark. That was as close as Centerville would get.

When R. Bowie knocked down her fourth, 3-pointer of the game for the Sandiettes, it was the proverbial dagger through the heart of Centerville as Grapeland pulled away to win by a final score of 60-48.

The Lady Tigers were led in scoring by Raylynn Brewer with 10 points while both Sara Stutzman and Tori Tollett dropped in eight. Brittany West accounted for seven, Makayla Neubauer knocked down six Hannah Matthews posted five and both Tara Goolsby as well as Averi Hancock chipped in two points to round out the Centerville scoring.

The newly crowned District 20-2A champs were led by Tatiyanna Bowie with 15 points and Ragan Bowie with 14. Hannah Chipman added 12, KeKe Harris knocked down seven and both DeDe McKnight and Kenya Woods had four to close out the Grapeland offensive production.

Following the game, Sandiettes’ Head Coach Anthony DeCello commented on his team’s championship win.

KeKe Harris

“It’s the first time I’ve seen such enthusiasm and excitement when I walked into the locker after the game. It was true excitement. They were so excited, they were bouncing off the walls. It was huge for them,” he said.

“There was a lot at stake and we didn’t start off well. We were a little tight at the outset and we missed a lot of layups,” DeCello said. “I told them at halftime they were playing hard but we were just weren’t converting the shots. They came out after the break and played the hardest I’ve seen them play all year.”

Asked about the 10 point second quarter deficit, the coach said the team didn’t handle the half court pressure as well as he would like, but stressed the girls didn’t give in and stuck with the game plan.

“We didn’t do anything different in the third quarter than we did in the first half, but we made the plays and didn’t turn the ball over. Our pressure started getting to them and the kids were so amped up, they started playing even harder. One thing I really liked about it was they played hard without fouling. That’s a difficult thing to do,” he said.

Ragan Bowie

“We fed off of that effort, as well. The more turnovers we forced – and the more shots we made – the harder those girls played. I’m just proud of them. I thought they really got after it,” DeCello added.

“I told them at halftime, we need to attack the goal. We were just coming down the floor and setting things up. I told them we needed to attack more on offense and we really hit the glass in the third and fourth quarters. That was big,” he said.

The Sandiettes will play the Cayuga Lady Wildcats for the Bi-District Championship at 8 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 13 in Fairfield.

From all of us at The Messenger, we would like to extend our congratulations to the 2016-2017 District 20-2A District Champion Grapeland Sandiettes and wish you the best of luck in the postseason.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.