AUBREY – Melissa picked up a key road win on Friday, Jan. 27, besting Aubrey, 76-60, at the midpoint of the district slate. And they did it without big man junior Tre Homer, held out of the game as a precaution to better assess a possible injury. With the victory, the Cardinals (3-2) remain log-jammed in second-place with Aubrey and Princeton — and they own tie-breaker wins over both.

“I thought we came out with a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm,” Melissa head coach Eric Benton said. “And we made some shots early, which really kind of gave us a big lift. I thought we defended well, kind of controlled the tempo early. Ultimately, I think it kind of comes down to, we made some shots early and got to set the tone a little bit. When our kids see the ball go in the basket, everything just seems to get a little bit more energized.”

“I thought we didn’t play very good defense,” Aubrey head coach Kyle Smith said. “We got down early, 18-2. They just jumped on us. They’re more athletic than we are, quicker than we are and they just beat us to spots. Defensively, we did a poor job. Melissa did a great job, though, of capitalizing on that. I mean, they made their shots.”

Sophomore Junior Castleberry erupted for 22 points to lead Melissa, with freshmen Brendon Lewis and Kaedric Cobbs cashing in 17 and 15 points, respectively. Castleberry nailed four shots from 3-point range and Cobbs added three. Freshman Brendon Lewis sank seven of nine free throw attempts.

“I know they’ve got great shooters,” Smith said. “(Castleberry’s) a great shooter. (Cobbs) made some shots we weren’t sure he was going to make. But he played a great game.”

Aubrey had some shooters of their own, with Hayden Smith and Chase Housden jacking in four 3s each. Smith led the Chaps with 19 points and Housden added 18.

Junior Cole McCraw, with extra minutes in Homer’s absence, turned in a 10-point performance and was a force inside.

“I thought Cole was awesome,” Benton said. “He’s not quite as big as Tre, but he was in all the right places, scored around the basket for us. I thought he was huge, huge for us.”

After a 2-2 tie in the opening seconds, Melissa never trailed. Castleberry and Cobbs both foreshadowed their big nights with a 3-pointer each in the first quarter. A Cobbs assist to Brendon Lewis for 2 set the score at 12-2 and sent Aubrey to a timeout. Down by 16 early, the Chaps cut the lead in half before the stanza ended, aided by 3s from Smith and Housden. Castleberry went off as the second quarter began, with nine straight points wrought by back-to-back 3s, a free throw and a layup high off the glass. When the C-Storm had passed, the Cards led, 32-15. As the Chaps got the margin down to 12 points, Cobbs slapped back with a corner 3 to put Melissa up, 37-22. The Cards led, 40-27, at the break.

Brendon Lewis opened the third quarter with a jumper for 2 followed by another Castleberry 3. Brendon Lewis’ steal and a layup pushed Melissa’s lead to 24 points, its biggest of the game, 53-29, halfway through the frame. Aubrey chipped the lead down to 14 by the end of the quarter, but to no avail. The final stanza was highlighted by nice assists from Cobbs, two each to McCraw and Brendon Lewis, as the Cards worked the ball inside for consecutive layups. With two minutes left, Melissa’s lead was back to 22, at 76-54. Aubrey closed out the scoring with back-to-back 3s.

The Cards’ remaining district schedule sets up nicely from here on, with four of five games in the friendly confines of Melissa High’s Bird Cage.

“Hopefully, that plays in our favor a little bit,” Benton said.