MELISSA — Melissa’s Lady Cardinals kept their cool down the stretch in a tight contest with Celina on Tuesday, Jan. 17, at Melissa High’s Bird Cage — and it earned them a 70-60 win in a clash for first place in District 11-4A.


“I’m just proud of our kids for fighting back and handling the ball at the end of the game,” Melissa head coach Heather Lane said. “Making those buckets, making some ‘and 1s.’ It was a huge win.”


Junior Taylor Thomas collected a team-high 19 points for Melissa (13-12, 4-0) and also tallied six rebounds, three assists and three steals. Sophomore Sally Clemmons forged a double-double, with 15 points and 10 boards, as senior Esthy Uyi-Ekhator and junior Natalie Conlin each totaled 10 points for the Lady Cards.


Grant McKale led Celina with 25 points, and Maci Martin and Annie Griffith added 14 and 13 points, respectively, to the Lady Bobcats’ cause.


The teams entered the contest tied atop the district, with 3-0 records. By halftime, the Lady Cards trailed 32-31 and after three quarters, 51-47. But Melissa rallied in the fourth to lead, 59-56, with two minutes left to play.


After two missed free throws by Celina, Carney cleared the rebound and sent the ball down court. Clemmons, off a sweet assist from sophomore Skyla Mackey, put in a layup and was fouled. After she sank the “and 1” free throw, Melissa had breathing room at 62-56. Celina came back with a layup, but then sent Thomas to the line, where she pushed the Lady Cards’ lead back to six, 64-58. Again, the Lady Bobcats would drive for two points — and send Thomas back to the line, with the same result.


Then, with under 40 seconds left, Clemmons drove for the kill — another layup and trip to the line, where she calmly boosted Melissa’s lead to 69-60, effectively icing the game.


“We had four guards in at the time,” Lane said, “and usually we have three guards and two bigs. But we knew that they were going to be running at us. So those four guards did a great job. Then Carney was on the court, just kind of plugging the middle whenever transition would happen.”


“They started out, got us a little bit rattled,” Lane said of Celina. “We’ve really been able just to kind of run up and down the floor like we wanted to, and they did a great job of mixing up some things. (Griffith) had a really good game for them.”


Conlin also had three assists, five rebounds and two steals for Melissa, as Carney and Lauren Brown each grabbed four rebounds. Carney and senior Krista Butterfield had three steals each, and Uyi-Ekhator tallied two blocks, with a steal and a board.