CORPUS CHRISTI — After the winter freeze postponed the playoffs all the way from Tuesday to Friday, Victoria East welcomed the chance to finally play its rematch with Brownsville Veterans Memorial.

East had beaten the Lady Chargers one year ago but found itself behind early in the Class 5A, area round matchup.

It took key adjustments on defense and a regrouping at halftime, but the Lady Titans went on a second half scoring streak that resulted in the 57-33 victory, sending them into the third round of the playoffs.

“I think since we played them last year we weren’t really expecting them to bite us in the mouth,” said East’s Giani Wimbish-Gay. “But once they did, coach told us that we have to fight and we have to just play our game.”

Veterans Memorial (22-4) got off to the fast start as Juju Alvarez hit two 3-pointers and Alexa Torres added another, pushing the Lady Chargers out to an 11-2 lead and ending the first quarter up 18-14.

Victoria East (20-4) struggled to find a rhythm on offense or produce stops on defense.

Yet despite the slow start, East changed up its defense and started to apply more pressure. Hannah Tyler and Ariana Ramsey’s pressuring defense created opportunities that allowed the Lady Titans to chip away at the deficit.

“I wasn’t really worried about the score, how it was so close in the first quarter,” Rice said. “But I knew that our defense would kick in, and after halftime, our second half was going to be a lot more energetic, and we’d just push through and come out with the win.”

Brandalyn Rice finished with 11 points and scored nine in the second quarter, using her height advantage to get second half shots.

Both teams got into foul trouble in the second, but Tyler hit a pair of free throws that made it 23-23 at halftime.

East had a chance to take the lead right before halftime but did not get a shot off before time ran out.

“Whenever we don’t start out with it, it can be hard, but once we turn it on, we’re an unstoppable team,” Wimbish-Gay said.

In the second, the Lady Titans took control and never gave it back.

Wimbish-Gay was held to five points in the first half but would score 17 points in the second, creating numerous turnovers at half court and sparking East’s offense.

“I thought that I wasn’t as engaged as I usually am,” Wimbish-Gay said. “I just told myself, ‘You need to pick it up, and you need to get better and help your team.’”

Wimbish-Gay, Tyler and Ramsey continued pressuring the Lady Chargers offense throughout the second half, both from half court and in the paint.

East outscored Veterans Memorial 34-10 in the second half, stifling all momentum the Lady Chargers had built in the first quarter.

“Honestly, if our defense is on and we keep pushing through and executing our defense, our offense is even better,” Rice said.

Veterans Memorial’s offense was further hurt when Bry Buitureira left the game with an injury in the third quarter.

Still, the Titans brought their lead to double digits going into the fourth and comfortable closed out the 24-point victory.

“All I can say is it’s a blessing from God,” Wimbish-Gay said. “Since we lost our seniors who were amazing, people were doubting us, but we’re here and it’s a blessing.”

The win makes it back-to-back trips to the third round for the Lady Titans.

East advances to play Sharyland Pioneer in the regional quarterfinals at a time and place to be determined.

Class 5A, area round

Victoria East 57, Brownsville Veterans Memorial 33

Points: (E) Giani Wimbish-Gay 22, Hannah Tyler 12, Brandalyn Rice 11, Ariana Ramsey 7, Lamira Cleavland 4, Alayeh Bryant 1; (B) Alexa Torres 9, Caite Esquivel 8, Juju Alvarez 8, Bry Buitureira 6, Ale Ortiz 2

3-pointers: Tyler 2, Ramsey, Alvarez 2, Torres, Buitureira; Halftime: 23-23; Records: Victoria East 20-4, Brownsville Veterans Memorial 22-4

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