FRISCO - Chalk it up to a playoff oddity that two athletic and quick teams would tangle themselves in something of a defensive struggle but that’s just what happened as Melissa fell to Wilmer-Hutchins, 54-43, in the Class 3A Region II Bi-district playoffs at Frisco Lone Star High School on Tuesday night.
Proving that he had his finger on the pulse of the playoff match-up even before they set eyes on the Eagles, Melissa head coach Clint Sadler had his team play a warm-up match against Tatum, a speedy and aggressive squad in the same mold as Wilmer-Hutchins.
"We tried to play a warm-up game against Tatum, another really good team that presses and runs and puts pressure on you. I felt like that was going to prepare us for these guys’ pressure but Wilmer-Hutchins was just relentless," said Sadler following the game.
Sadler knew what was coming down the tollway. Wilmer-Hutchins applied the full-court press early on and kept it up throughout the contest, forcing turnover after turnover to sink the Red Bird faithfuls’ hopes.
"They forced us into way too many turnovers; we weren’t able to fight through that pressure and in the end that’s what really ended up biting us," explained Sadler. "In the fourth quarter there were too many turnovers and easy lay-ups on the other end for them. We were having to fight and scrap for every basket.
"Hats off to them and their defense."
Another quirk of this game was that Melissa started the season with a healthy roster of seniors but finished the night with a very young line-up on the court. Two of the team’s vital senior corps were a scratch even before tip-off. Jackson Webb, the team’s best player returning from last year, was hurt and didn’t play and Sheldon Moore was injured in the warm-up game against Tatum. Senior Connor Bazis started the night but didn’t finish it as he went down in the first quarter.
"At times during the season we thought we were going to be senior-heavy," said Sadler. "By the time we got to the game tonight even the seniors we had left were fouling out. It was good experience for those young guys there at the end of the game to see that type of pressure and, unfortunately, we just weren’t able to handle it as well as I would have liked."
Melissa scored first to start the game as Cory Regan hit on a pair of free throws. However, that was the last time the Cardinals led in this contest, though the Eagles’ lead was in doubt for much of the game. It was evident early on that no room was to be given or taken as both teams contested every ball, every pass and every shot. Melissa point guard Karson Munson’s play was typical as he sacrificed his body at every turn on his way to a gritty seven-point effort.
At the end of one period Melissa trailed by two points, 10-8, in what was to be indicative of the next 24 minutes of play; the Cardinals would pull close but come up just short to the relentless pressure of the Eagles, the fourth-place team out of District 11-3A. Melissa, the District 12-3A champs, kept it step-for-step with Wilmer-Hutchins throughout the second period. Freshman Joe Ragon, sophomore John Gressett, Munson and senior Will Gray tallied nine points in the second, but the Eagles carried a 19-17 lead into the locker room at the halftime break.
The scene which unfolded in the first half – both teams playing quick on offense and just as quick on defense – played itself out in the second, as well. Melissa fell behind by as much as eight points before Gray lit up the crowd and his own bench with a 3-point shot that fell before he was sent to the deck. Gray connected on the and-1 to cut into the deficit, but the Eagles extended their lead by three before the end of the period.
The Cardinals made a run early in the fourth on the back of Ragon. The freshman scored eight straight points – including a 3-point bomb from the baseline – in an attempted momentum grab. Ragon’s effort matched the total output of Wilmer-Hutchins through the first half of the final frame, but the Eagles’ pressure defense began to take a toll on Melissa. Thanks to that constant pressure, Wilmer-Hutchins recorded multiple turnovers in the final three minutes resulting in an 11-point run to keep the score out of reach for the Cardinals.
Melissa scored six points in the final two minutes but it was too late as Wilmer-Hutchins claimed the 11-point victory.
Ragon led Melissa with 13 points on the night. Gray tallied eight points, while Munson and Tyler West scored seven points each. Cory Regan added five points while Gressett had three points. Wilmer-Hutchins’ Willie Hollins led all scorers with 21 points.
Melissa finished the season at 16-16 overall and won District 12-3A with a 7-1 record.
W 10 9 14 21 — 54
M 8 9 11 15 — 43