MELISSA — When this season started, Melissa’s Lady Cardinals knew they had a good basketball team. But this group set a goal of perfection — as in 10-0 in district play, as in never really having an “off” night — and on Tuesday, Feb. 6, they completed the feat. They did it with a stifling press defense that often kept their opponent from getting the ball to midcourt. They did it with confident ball-handling, accurate shooting and slick execution.
They did it with a 51-point win over Anna’s Lady Coyotes on Senior Night at Melissa High’s Bird Cage.
“I’m really glad for all of them, but especially our seniors because they’ve been in the program for six years,” second-year Melissa head coach Heather Lane said. “They started with Coach (Claude) Webb, then we had transition last year. So it’s nice for them to bounce back this year and win a district championship, and also to go undefeated. That’s just pretty special to be able to do that. Winning is hard. And our opponents are good. It takes a special group to keep that sisterhood, stay together, play unselfish, make that extra pass. I’m just really proud of them and for them.”
“We’ll let them enjoy tonight,” Lane said, “and then tomorrow we’ll just regroup. … We’ll focus on our next opponent and make plans.” (Those plans include facing Terrell’s Lady Tigers in the bi-district playoffs at Naaman Forest High School on Monday, Feb. 13, at 7 p.m.)
The Lady Cards led Anna, 23-9, after one quarter and by halftime the margin was 43-11. In the end, 71-20 told the story.
“That game couldn’t get over quick enough for me,” Anna head coach Grant Bergman said. “For whatever reason, we just didn’t match our opponent. I wish I could put a finger on it. Coaching high school athletes, that stuff happens. It’s unfortunate that it happened in our last game of the year and the last game for my two seniors (Savannah Kendall and Avery Oonk). We just got out-manned, we got out-worked, we got out-coached.”
Junior Taylor Thomas pumped in 19 points to lead Melissa, with perhaps half of them coming off steals. Sophomore Sally Clemmons came off the bench to pour in 18 points for the Lady Cards, and junior Taylor Carney and junior Natalie Conlin rounded out the team’s double-digit scoring with 10 points each. Thomas and Carney led Melissa in steals, with eight and seven, respectively. Thomas also collected a team-high five assists.
Avery Oonk, in her last game for the Lady Coyotes, led Anna (2-8) with eight points.
Playing for their final time at the Bird Cage were Melissa seniors Lauren Brown, Krista Butterfield, Esthy Uyi-Ekhator and Addison Flowers. Lane said she changed up her team’s game-day ritual for the occasion.
“Normally, on game days I have a guest speaker,” she said. “Today, when I went in there I told them our guest speaker was the seniors, they just didn’t know it. So we just reminisced a little bit. We talked about just funny things that have happened, all the way from seventh grade until their senior year. They kind of told stories on each other. Then we talked about, do you have any regrets? Some of them talked about valuing practice and valuing every minute that they had. They also gave advice to the younger players, so it was a pretty cool deal. … I invited Coach Webb to come in there and be with us because he’s the one that started (the seniors) out in the program. They were excited, they were emotional, because they poured of much of their selves into this. I’m just glad it turned out the way that it did. They had a special senior year.”
Anna’s freshman Marianna Bert opened the contest with a 3-pointer and junior JaShell Evans’ layup would tie it at 5-5, but soon the rout was on. The Lady Coyotes would not score again until trailing, 19-5. Carney’s steal sent to Clemmons for a layup pushed the lead to 13-5 along the way.
To open the second quarter, Thomas nabbed three steals in a row, her last ending with an assist to Butterfield’s layup and a 26-9 lead. The deficit moved to 39-9 before Bert’s coast-to-coast drive for a layup, Anna’s only bucket of the quarter. In the third stanza, Clemmons scored layups off back-to-back steals and Thomas drained consecutive 3s.
Ominously for Melissa, with four minutes left in that quarter, sophomore forward Charley Lane went to the floor while battling for a ball under the Lady Cards’ basket. She was helped off the court without putting weight on her left leg. After being examined on the bench, her left knee was iced and she did not return. After the game, Charley was walking unassisted — albeit with a slight limp — and Lane confirmed, “She’s alright.”
Said Bergman of the evening’s events, “The main thing I need to take away from this is, hopefully, we take that (loss) — we being the kids that are returning and the coaching staff — and that’s our motivation during the off-season. … But you don’t want to harp on this. You want to kind of flush it, move on. And then celebrate the friendships and bonds that we’ve built.”