AUSTIN, Texas — Amber Branson is one tough basketball coach.
Shortly after coaching Lipan to a regional semifinal victory on Feb. 25, Branson gave birth to daughter Leslie. And about 15 hours later, she was back on the bench guiding the Lady Indians to another win and the school’s first berth in the Texas state tournament since 2003.
“I was pretty tired,” Branson said Friday, a few hours before Lipan was routed by defending champion Neches 65-26 in the semifinals of Class 1A Division II, the division for the state’s smallest schools. “I never felt like I couldn’t do it. God’s been good to me this week.”
Branson knew such a scenario was possible if her team went deep into the playoffs. After her team won its regional semifinal, she went back to her hotel room to rest.
Having two children already, it wasn’t long before Branson realized her third was rapidly on her way.
Branson went to the hospital in Abilene shortly after 9 p.m. and gave birth about an hour later. Leslie came so fast she didn’t give her mom time to get an epidural for pain.
“If I had the epidural, I might not have been able to make it” to the game, she said.
Instead, by 2 p.m. the next day Branson was back on the bench, exhausted and sore but urging her team on as they rallied from 15 points down to win.
The hardest part was leaving baby Leslie at the hospital. But there was no way Branson was going to let her team play such a big game without her.
“I would have taken her with me if I could have,” Branson said.
Les Branson said his wife has taken some criticism in the media for her decision.
“People don’t understand what basketball’s like in Lipan,” Les Branson said of the 400-person town 90 miles west of Dallas. The school has only 76 students, making it the second-smallest in the tournament.
After the game, Branson went back to the hospital “to be a mom for a few hours” and rest. The Lady Indians went to the hospital and took a team photo surrounding Leslie.
Coincidentally, the team motto this season is, “If it’s easy, I don’t want it.”
Still just a week old, Leslie made it to the state tournament. She was in a baby carrier two rows behind the Lipan bench and tucked under a pink striped blanket.
The Bransons plan to put a basketball in Leslie’s hands at an early age — she’ll play guard, dad says — and they hope to someday return to Austin to watch her win a state championship.
At the very least, Leslie is already part of Lipan lore.
And how will her parents tell her the story of the week? They’ll talk about the small-town team that made it to state.
“I tell her how proud I am of the girls who brought her here,” Branson said.