By Rick Atkinson


For the Anna-Melissa Tribune


ALLEN – At the Allen Holiday Invitational hoops tournament last week, Melissa rolled to two wins in three outings to reach Saturday’s Class 4A/3A Silver Bracket final.


There, versus familiar foe Van Alstyne, the Cards were bested, 56-42, as Panthers guard Sam Tormos posted a game-high 20 points. Melissa guard Ezra Monroe knocked down a team-high 14 points as the Cards fought to dig out of an 18-3 first-quarter hole. Over the final three stanzas the teams played to a near draw, but Van Alstyne made its early surge stick.


This was the third meeting between these two programs this season. The Panthers won, 75-68, at Melissa Dec. 8 and the Cards prevailed Dec. 14, 67-62, in the Highway 5 tournament.


Head Coach Eric Benton noted that this was maybe the 10th time the Cards have faced Van Alstyne in non-district competition in his three-plus years at Melissa. “It’s almost comical at this point. … It always seems to lead to the two of us matching up somewhere.


“The thing you’re always going to know about them is they’re going to defend you really well, and they’re going to shoot it really well. So you’re going to have to do both of those things yourself or you’re going to have a hard time keeping pace. … We struggled so badly in the first quarter to score.”


Said Van Alstyne head coach Russell Best, “We made some shots early and they didn’t. And we were able to extend the lead. Then the kids were able to hang onto it in the third quarter when they made a little run.”


Monroe averaged a team-high 16 points per game in Melissa’s four tourney contests. The Cards (10-9) opened the Dec. 26 pool play at Ereckson Middle School with the loss to 4A Crandall before bouncing back to defeat 4A Dalhart. Crandall held a 15-3 edge after one quarter enroute to its 44-31 victory. Monroe recorded a team-high 14 points for Melissa and fellow guard Hudson Czarnecki added 10.


Said Benton, “The big thing [versus Crandall] was … you’re going to be rusty. We didn’t … shoot very good. We were really good, defensively - we held them to 44 points - but we needed to score 45 and just couldn’t quite get all the rust off.”


In downing Dalhart, 59-44, Monroe led all scorers with 21 points as the Cards dominated throughout, leading, 36-17, at the break. Ten Melissa shooters scored in this one.


“We made some shots,” Benton said. “Everything just seemed a little more in rhythm. … And I thought our quickness was a little too much for them. Ezra did a great job playing under control, but he’s so quick and shifty that he was able to get a lot places and make a lot really positive things happen. They had a hard time staying in front of him, which created a ton of stuff for other people.”


Benton added that the Wolves had driven in from the Texas Panhandle that morning, a seven-hour ordeal.“We definitely had the advantage of a 20-minute bus ride, even though we’d already played a game today.”


In the Dec. 27 Silver Bracket semifinal at the Lowery Freshman Center, the Cards prevailed over 4A Canton, 50-44, with Monroe again leading Melissa scorers - this time with 16 points. Cards forward Tavenor Watts chipped in 10.


Melissa 3 9 13 6 - 31


Crandall 15 14 6 9 - 44


Melissa scoring - Ezra Monroe 14, Hudson Czarnecki 10, Justin Maina 3, Jayden Anthony 2, CJ Shellie 2.


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Melissa 19 17 12 11 - 59


Dalhart 11 6 13 14 - 44


Melissa scoring - Ezra Monroe 21, Tavenor Watts 8, Jayden Anthony 6, CJ Shellie 6, Phoenix Bramhall 5, Justin Maina 5, Hudson Czarnecki 3, Kaden Segleski 2, Daxx Dunnahoe 2, George Lado 1.


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Melissa 16 5 14 15 - 50


Canton 7 8 13 16 - 44


Melissa scoring - Ezra Monroe 16, Tavenor Watts 10, Hudson Czarnecki 7, Justin Maina 6, CJ Shellie 6, Phoenix Bramhall 4.


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Melissa 3 15 15 9 - 42 Van Alstyne 18 14 15 9 - 56


Melissa scoring – Ezra Monroe 14, Daxx Dunnahoe 8, Justin Maina 7, CJ Shellie 4, Hudson Czarnecki 3, Kaden Segleski 3, Jayden Anthony 2, Tavenor Watts 1.