MELISSA — The old saying goes, “You didn’t lose, you just ran out of time.” Perhaps Melissa’s Cardinals can take some solace in that after falling to first-place Anna, 56-51 – in a game they trailed in by 19 points in the second half. Ultimately, though, it was likely the Coyotes’ lights-out, first-quarter shooting that cost the Cards on Feb. 7 at Melissa High’s Bird Cage. Anna bolted to a 21-8 lead, its shooters hitting nearly everything they put up, and led after one frame, 24-12. After the Coyotes’ singed net had cooled, the two teams settled into a fine battle, with Melissa taking the final two stanzas, 15-9 and 17-13.
But trailing by nine, 43-34, as the fourth quarter began, the Cards would get no closer than six points until freshman Brendon Lewis’ buzzer-layup produced the final five-point margin. In the game’s final minute, five on-target Coyote free throws helped keep Melissa at bay.
“I think that was probably the story of the game,” Cards head coach Eric Benton said of Anna’s early blitz. “They were so crisp and so sharp. I’ll see it when I ‘stat’ the film, but they might have literally made their first 10 shots. And I don’t think that we were bad in that same stretch — but we didn’t hit our first 10 in a row. I really think after we kind of dealt with that initial onslaught, we were pretty good the rest of the way.”
“We’ve been coming out like that,” Anna head coach Kyle Phifer said. “We’ve been hitting shots early. I think maybe the flow the game, because of all the fouls, kind of slowed us down. It kind of took the energy out of it. And the rest of it was just a grind. Coach Benton did a great job. He switched up his defenses, kept us kind of guessing a little bit. We were just lucky to get out with a win.”
Freshman Kaedric Cobbs tallied a game-high 14 points for Melissa, with teammates sophomore Junior Castleberry and sophomore Matt Holloway adding 11 and 10 points, respectively. Senior Elijah Smith was Anna’s top scorer, with 13 points, as seniors Lawrence Goade and Keamoni Mattocks collected 12 each for the Coyotes. Mattocks had three of the game-icing free throws, with Goade and senior Forest Durrett adding one each.
Melissa managed to hold Mattocks — who recently pumped in 36 at Celina — to 12 points, with only three field goals.
“I was really pleased with how we guarded him,” Benton said, adding, “You’ve got to tip your cap to E.J. (Elijah Smith) and those other guys that stepped up and made plays, especially in that first quarter. A bunch of those shots that went in are from those other guys, when we keyed so much on Keamoni.”
With two games left, the 7-1 Coyotes have clinched a playoff berth and remain poised to win District 11-4A. Melissa’s playoff hopes are still alive at 4-4, though the Cards are now tied for third place with Princeton and Celina. The first four teams make the playoffs.
Both teams ran into foul trouble this night as the “grind” progressed. For Anna, senior Dillon Lewis fouled out late, after three fouls in the first half. Durrett also collected three in the first half and Smith picked up his third in the third quarter. Melissa’s Brendon Lewis, Cole McCraw and Castleberry finished with four fouls each, as Holloway and Taner Bigbee were nursing three apiece.
Smith, Goade and senior Donald Maloid all sank 3-pointers in Anna’s first quarter. In the second frame, Goade canned the second of his team-high three 3s before Cobbs’ four-straight free throws drew Melissa to within 32-18. The Cards trailed, 34-19, at halftime. Midway through the third quarter, two free throws by Durrett moved Anna’s lead to its biggest of the game, at 41-22 — and that’s when the Cards began to chip away. Castleberry led the charge, nailing three 3s before the quarter was up.
“I think we’re playing well right now,” Phifer said, looking ahead. “I didn’t think we played great tonight for four quarters but I think we were able to pull out a win in a tough place, so that’s always good. I think we have seniors - they’re ready to go. They understand what this is about. You have kids who have won 30 games last season, so I think they’re ready to roll.”