Melissa has gotten off to less than stellar starts of late, though still building a solid district mark of 5-2. On Jan. 29 at Anna High School, Lady Cardinals head coach Chris Oestreich wanted that trend to end - the slow starts, that is — and his charges responded, delivering a 56-41 defeat of Anna in a contest they pretty much controlled throughout.


Guard Sally Clemmons poured in 18 points to lead the Lady Cards while forward Charley Lane added 14. For Anna, forward Bre Traylor posted a team-high eight points and Marianna Bert, Lexi Stewart and Hannah Howell chipped in seven apiece.


“We’ve needed to start better,” Lady Cards head coach Chris Oestreich said. “We’ve been just horrendous, starting. And I take that on myself. … Even though we didn’t run away and hide from them, we did a better job of getting off to a good start.”


Indeed, the Lady Cards led, 17-11, after a quarter and held a 32-17 advantage by halftime. Anna made runs but never got closer than nine points after the break. In the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 11, the Lady Coyotes led, 29-18, at half time.


“We had a nice cushion,” Oestreich said of Melissa’s first-half roll this night, “so we were able to make some mistakes and play through that and not have to panic.” He added, “We’re still trying to clean some things up. I’m not happy with the defense yet. I think we give up too many offensive rebounds and too many easy entries inside.”


Said Anna head coach Justin Baldia, “We turned the ball over a little too much to really put ourselves in a successful position. And we had some mental lapses defensively where we just weren’t focused. When you combine turnovers with mental mistakes on the defensive end, that’s not a winning combination. … I’m pleased with our effort. Our effort is always generally pretty good, but we’ve got take care of the ball more.”


With two district games left, the Lady Cards (6-2) are perched in second place, with Sanger a game back, nipping at their heels. The fifth-place Lady Coyotes (2-6) are still mathematically alive for the playoffs, but must now win-out over Aubrey (8-0) and Celina (3-5) to have a shot at the district’s fourth and final post-season berth.


Baldia’s focus now? “I’m still looking for us to play a complete four quarters,” he said. “I don’t know that we’ve done that since district play has started. I’m looking for folks that are giving great hustle the entire time that they’re out there and are making good decisions with the ball.”


Melissa bolted out of the gate, 8-2, but the Lady Coyotes pushed back to trail, 12-9, after Skyla Mackey’s NBA 3 with two minutes left in the first frame. In the second, Ashley Gideon’s straight-on layup off the glass put the Lady Cards up, 21-13, and soon Melissa got hot from beyond the arc. Lane knocked down the Lady Cards’ first trey from just left of center for a 24-16 edge with 2:18 left in the half. After an Anna turnover, Lane came back with another long-distance swish from almost the same spot and the lead was 11. Mia Ellis’ baseline dribble for a Melissa bucket followed then Jaydyn Bullard’s steal went to Allie Graham who popped a 3 from the left corner and the Lady Cards had their 32-17 breathing room. A buzzer-beating, near-mid-court heave by Anna’s Bert hit the rim but wouldn’t go.


In the third, Bert’s steal and coast-to-coast layup got the Lady Coyotes to within 34-23. Kaycee Redwine then stole Melissa’s next two possessions, leading to two made free throws and Anna appeared to be gaining steam, down nine. But after back-to-back Clemmons free throws put the Lady Cards up 36-25, Howell drew a technical foul for slamming the ball high off the floor when a baseline possession call went against Anna. Clemmons sank both “T” shots and moments later added a jumper for a 40-27 Melissa advantage as the third stanza neared its end. A Mackey 3-try at the buzzer rolled in and out.


The Lady Cards’ margin quickly grew to 15 again in the fourth. Bert bagged another 3 and two Stewart free throws got Anna to within 10 – 49-39 with a minute left – but Melissa would nail seven late charity-stripers for the comfortable win.


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Melissa 17 15 8 16 - 56


Anna 11 6 10 14 - 41


Melissa scoring – Sally Clemmons 18, Charley Lane 14, Ashley Gideon 9, Allie Graham 6, Mia Ellis 5, Jaydyn Bullard 2, Grace Moothart 2.


Anna scoring - Bre Traylor 8, Marianna Bert 7, Lexi Stewart 7, Hannah Howell 7, Qua Fisher 4, Kaycee Redwine 3, Skyla Mackey 3, Shataelyn King 2.