POTTSBORO — Melissa’s Lady Cardinals overcame cold-shooting and a 15-point halftime deficit to down Class 5A Denison, 61-56, in overtime on Thursday, Nov. 30 — the first day of Pottsboro’s Cardinal Classic basketball tournament. The Lady Cards (9-2) still trailed, 47-36, after three quarters before forcing OT with an 18-7 final stanza.
Earlier in the day, Melissa had defeated Class 3A Bowie, 53-42, while this was Denison’s first game of the tourney.
“We started making some shots that we were missing in the first half,” Melissa head coach Heather Lane said of her team’s big comeback. “And our kids made their mind up that they were going to block out and rebound. They were much more athletic than we were, and bigger, so we’ve got to (do that). We’ve got to commit.
“And, of course, we play a lot of zone (defense) so it makes it tough. That’s why in the second half we tried to go back to man to give our kids a better opportunity to fundamentally block-out and then go get that rebound.”
Guard Taylor Thomas led the Lady Cards with 14 points, while forward Taylor Carney and guard Sally Clemmons collected 11 points each. Guard Natalie Conlin grabbed a team-high seven rebounds for Melissa, with forwards Ashley Gideon and Charley Lane totaling six each and forward Anna Fortenberry adding five.
Clemmons, Thomas and Allie Graham posted two steals each, but none was bigger than the one Clemmons pilfered late in overtime with the Lady Cards up, 58-55. Her nabbed-pass in Denison’s end of court and subsequent layup gave Melissa a five-point lead with under 20 seconds left to play.
“That took the air out of their sails for sure,” Lane said. “They have a lot of good 3-point shooters. They hit a lot of 3s on us.”
In the pivotal fourth quarter, Carney got hot with a jumper in the lane followed by a 3 from the left side to cut Denison’s lead to eight. Then down, 50-41, Fortenberry and Kayla Riles battled taller Lady Jackets for back-to-back offensive rebounds before Riles was fouled. Riles’ free throw got the deficit back to eight and, from there, huge 3s from Thomas and Carney soon had the Lady Cards within striking distance at 52-48.
After a Lady Jackets free throw, Conlin’s trey from the right corner cut the lead to three with a minute left in regulation. Denison’s next possession came up empty and Melissa completed the comeback on Gideon’s layup “and 1” off a nice assist from Thomas.
Tied, 54-all, with 43 seconds remaining, Denison burned clock for a final shot but missed on two tries.
In the four-minute OT period, Carney opened with a block then halfway through the frame nailed a 3 from the right side. Down, 57-54, Denison got a bucket in close but Gideon came back with another layup, this time with a Clemmons assist. Then, up three, the stage was set for Clemmons’ game-clinching steal.
The teams battled toe-to-toe early, with Denison finally getting separation at 18-14 after one quarter. The second period was when the Lady Cards’ shots stopped falling and Denison’s defensive pressure earned some steals. Three Lady Jacket 3s in the frame also helped send Melissa’s deficit to 31-22 before Denison (9-3) closed out the half with a 6-0 run.
“I think they got down a little bit in the first half,” Lane said of her team. “When we went in at halftime they just had that look on their faces, like, nothing’s going right. … So we just talked about getting better. I told them I don’t care what happens as far as the score is concerned. District is when it matters the most and we’re trying to get better. They seem to have bought into that.”
The Lady Cards began finding their shooting touch in the third quarter with important baskets from Thomas, Carney, Lane and Clemmons. Thomas’ jumper from just left of the top of the key was followed by a left-of-center 3 by Carney. When Denison answered with a trey, Thomas answered back with one of her own. With a minute left in the third, Lane’s straight-on jumper made it 45-33. After a Lady Jacket layup, Melissa worked for a final shot and found it when Clemmons canned a deep right-corner 3 as the buzzer sounded.
“Especially in the second half, we had some kids really step up,” Lane said. “We felt like our effort wasn’t where it should be in the first half. We challenged them with that a little bit. I don’t know if they had too big of a lunch or what. Live and learn.”
“Denison has a great team,” Lane added. “Coach (Rod) Been does a great job. He’s been working with those kids for a long time.”
In Melissa’s win over Bowie, both teams opened fast with the Lady Cards leading, 27-23, after one quarter. That was followed by a completely scoreless second period. After a tight third quarter, Melissa pulled away in the final stanza. Conlin and Thomas led the Lady Cards with 11 points each, while Lane and Gideon added nine points apiece. Lane and Conlin were the team’s top rebounders with nine and seven grabs, respectively. Of Melissa’s 17 steals, Thomas collected a team-high five and Conlin added four.