By MICHAEL S. ADAMS
H-P Sports Writer
GRAPELAND — The Grapeland Sandiettes almost let one slip away.
Grapeland led by 14 points at halftime, but watched as Iola came fighting back and take a one-point lead with 1:36 left in the game. The Sandiettes came back and defeated Iola 57-56 to open the Sandiette Classic Wednesday.
“We needed that one,” head coach Felecia Meador said. “It was sloppy, but a win is a win and when you need a win, you’ll take it.”
For the second consecutive game, the Sandiettes played an opponent close in the fourth quarter. Unlike it’s last game against Frankston, it was Grapeland having to fight off a late fourth quarter surge.
But unlike the Frankston game where Grapeland was 6-of-29 from the free throw line, they turned the tables and won the game from the free throw line.
After the Lady Bulldogs took their first lead of the game, Julie Goolsby was fouled on a shot attempt and connected on 1-of-2 free throws to tie the game.
Christy Willis was fouled on Grapeland’s next possession and made one of her two free throws to give the Sandiettes a one-point advantage with 47 seconds left.
“Christy did a good job tonight being the leader,” Meador said. “It’s tough to ask a sophomore to step in and be the leader, but she did a good job.”
Willis finished the game with a game-high 24 points to go with five rebounds and nine steals.
The Sandiettes (2-13) lost Opal Hughes late in the third quarter to an ankle injury. Hughes left the game with 14 points and three rebounds and was 4-of-4 from the free-throw line.
“It hurt us a little when Opal was injured and left the game,” Meador said. “That took a senior off the floor and took a presence from the inside, but we had girls that stepped up.”
Meador got that from junior Megan Kendrick, who came off the bench and pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds to go with six points and a steal. Kendrick played in just her second game after an injury sidelined her for three weeks.
In limited minutes, Kendrick pulled down eight rebounds in her first game back against Frankston.
“You can’t say enough about how Megan played and stepped in for us,” Meador said. “She got real aggressive inside and you just didn’t know how aggressive she was going to be after her injury. She did a good job.”
The Sandiettes forced 21 Iola turnovers and had just nine as a team in the first half. Grapeland was 10-of-25 in the first half from the free throw line after 15 Iola fouls put Grapeland into the double-bonus early in the second quarter.
Grapeland came out in the second half and picked up nine quick fouls in the third quarter. Iola was in the double-bonus with 7:21 left in the game and the Lady Bulldogs opened the fourth quarter on a 6-0 run after outscoring the Sandiettes 14-10 in the third quarter.
The Sandiettes had 20 turnovers in the second half and both teams were called for a total 51 fouls for the game.
“We stopped driving the ball in the second half,” Meador said. “We are still a very young team and have so much to learn, but tonight we played well enough to win.”
Grapeland will play the winner of Bowie vs. Alto game today at 8 p.m. in the semifinals of the Sandiette Classic.
By MICHAEL S. ADAMS