COMMERCE – The end to Melissa’s magical post-season run came quickly at Texas A&M University-Commerce on Friday. With a haymaker 26-3 first-quarter, the long tall Canton Eaglettes all but put this Class 4A Region II semifinal contest away. Melissa rallied a bit in the second frame but a 19-2 Eaglettes surge in the third proved to be the knock-out punch.
Through it all, the Lady Cards (19-17) kept their composure and battled to the end. The final ledger: Canton 66, Melissa 30.
With the victory, the Eaglettes (36-1) earned the right to face Dallas Lincoln (30-4) in the regional finals on Saturday night.
“We got off to a poor start,” first-year Melissa head coach Chris Oestreich said. “They hit 3s against our zone that we didn’t expect. And we scouted them well. We spent three days watching film from seven or eight games. Them hitting 3s and us not being able to hit a shot in the first quarter snowballed.”
None of this, of course, could take away the Lady Cards’ memorable eight-game win streak to close out the season, including a victory at district-champ Aubrey’s place, three playoff victories and a trip regional tournament for the first time in school history. Said Oestreich, “I told the girls at the end of the game, ‘Nobody should come out of the locker room with their head hung, because we made a great run at the end of the year.’ We finished second in our district when I think everybody thought we would be an afterthought. And it was because of their effort and that they worked together. … They should be proud of what they’ve done. I’m not embarrassed by one game and one score. It doesn’t define what our program is and what we’re about.”
The Eaglettes finished with 32 points in the paint to Melissa’s 14; 28 points off turnovers against 8 for the Lady Cards; and 12 second-chance points to Melissa’s 4. Canton shot 53 percent from the field, with nearly half of their 3-pointers finding net, while the Lady Cards shot 20-percent, hitting on 10-of-48 from the field, including 2-of-19 from 3-point range.
Said Canton head coach John Hobbs, “We shot it really well and defended like we always do. Everything we do is based on how well we defend. … I knew we were going to be depending on shooting the 3 and they depend on shooting the 3. Ours went in, there’s didn’t.” As for his veteran lineup, Hobbs noted, “I’ve got four seniors that have played together for a long time. They’ve won, I think, 115 games since they’ve been in high school.”
Canton’s man-to-man defense stifled from the start. Getting inside on the Eaglettes meant getting through what looked like a stand of sturdy trees. Early on, Melissa’s bread-and-butter drives to the bucket were thwarted, often with a block. And with the Lady Cards’ 3s not falling, the writing was soon on the TAMU-Commerce Field House walls.
Hannah Manry tallied a game-high 20 points for Canton while teammate Ashley Wood rolled for 15. Eaglette Mattie Tullos nabbed 12 rebounds, with 10 coming on the defensive end. For Melissa, guards Sally Clemmons and Inaya Hines, off the bench late, collected a team-high six points each. Allie Graham posted six rebounds to lead the Lady Cards, including five defensive boards, and forward Charley Lane collected three steals and two blocks.
Appearing in their final games for Melissa were seniors Clemmons, Lane, Graham, Me’layah Horton-Muhammad and Bionca Mays, all of whom played important roles in leading this team further than many imagined.
Canton 26 11 19 10 - 66
Melissa 3 14 2 11 - 30
Canton scoring - Hannah Manry 20, Ashley Wood 15, Kendall Nilius 9, Olivia Norrell 6, Mattie Tullos 6, Ashley Riffe 4,Kayden Prox 3,
Melissa scoring - Sally Clemmons 6, Inaya Hines 6, Mia Ellis 5, Charley Lane 5, Grace Moothart 3, Allie Graham 3, Katie Sparks 2.