PRINCETON — Melissa’s Lady Cardinals moved to 8-0 in district on Tuesday, Jan. 30, with a 65-50 victory over Princeton — a win that clinched the District 11-4A title with two contests left in the regular season. The Lady Cards have a two-game lead over second-place Aubrey (6-2) but hold the tiebreaker there, having defeated the Lady Chaparrals twice.
The Lady Panthers came at Melissa hard this night and trailed by six at halftime, 27-21, but the Lady Cards would seize control after the break.
Melissa forward Ashley Gideon pumped in 26 points — mostly from deep in the paint and mostly in the second half — off relentless assists from all over. Gideon canned 9 of her 10 shots overall and also warmed the net from the free throw line, sinking 8 of 10 attempts. Forward Taylor Carney and guard Taylor Thomas were next among Lady Card scorers with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Gideon also swatted four big blocks and posted seven rebounds, both tops on the team.
Carney collected six boards for Melissa while guard Sally Clemmons posted a team-high four assists and Thomas and forward Charley Lane added three apiece.
Alyssa Rivera led Princeton with 11 points and Payton Aungst tossed in 10 more.
“It was exciting,” Melissa head coach Heather Lane said, moments after wrapping up a second-straight district championship. “We knew Aubrey was sitting in second place but Princeton was the team that gave us a little bit harder time on the court. They do a good job of pressure man [to man] defense. It creates a little bit of havoc for our guards that maybe they’re not used to seeing.”
“Princeton also does a good job of taking charges,” Lane said, “and we were running through some of our passes. That was our fault for not adjusting. We’re going to have to get better at reading that.” Thomas, Clemmons and Lane were all whistled for at least one charge, (though a couple appeared to be quite ticky-tack.)
Lane added, “I thought [guard] Natalie Conlin had a really good game. She kept a pretty cool head with Sally and Taylor in foul trouble.” As for Gideon’s big game, Lane said, “She realizes even as a sophomore how good these guards are. She’s got to catch it and go score, because they’re going to find her. She did a good job.”
Melissa got out to an 8-0 first-quarter lead but the Lady Panthers recovered to trail 18-13 by period’s end. Carney and Thomas each nailed 3-pointers here and Gideon collected six points.
In the second stanza, Carney opened with a jumper from the left side and, with five minutes left in the frame, her put-back layup had the Lady Cards up, 22-16. Melissa got the lead back to eight on Lane’s jump shot off a Clemmons steal but Princeton answered with a trey to cut the deficit to 24-19. Free throws by Conlin and Gideon put the score at 27-21 with 25 ticks left in the half. Conlin’s heave from beyond half-court as the buzzer sounded was no good.
(Extracurricular note: Before the second half began, scores of noisemakers were confiscated from the Princeton crowd by school officials with large garbage bags. The noisemakers — 2-foot long inflated “sausage-thumpers” we’ll call them — had been a nuisance for two quarters, slapped together to produce a dull, staccato thumping that had the gym sounding like a seal convention, without the barking. UIL rules forbid noisemakers.)
A Rivera 3 began the third quarter but the Lady Cards soon surged. Carney’s bucket from the beyond the arc gave Melissa a 34-26 advantage and moments later Thomas’ drive through traffic for 2 had the margin at 10 for the first time. Steals by Clemmons and Gideon during this push helped keep Princeton tamed.
Lane’s touch-pass flipped to Gideon underneath ended with a basket and a 38-30 Lady Cards’ lead with under four minutes left in the third. Seconds later, Thomas punched the same pass to Gideon and the scoreboard showed 42-31. Two free throws from Allie Graham with a tenth-of-a-second on the clock had Melissa up, 48-35.
In the fourth, Princeton would draw no closer than eight points, at 58-50 with 1:30 left. The Lady Cards closed it out with a layup from Carney and free throws by Clemmons, Lane and Carney.
Melissa scorers: Ashley Gideon 26, Taylor Carney 13, Taylor Thomas 12, Natalie Conlin 6, Sally Clemmons 3, Charley Lane 3, Allie Graham 2.
Princeton scorers: Alyssa Rivera 11, Payton Aungst 10, K. Fuller 6, Nakeitra Mack 6, R. Aungst 5, Kendra Gillespie 3, K. Bailey 3, H. McCracken 2, N. Crawford 2, Amanda Peters 2.