By Rick Atkinson
For the Anna-Melissa Tribune
MELISSA – After a tight first-half on Friday, the long, tall Lady Eagles of Decatur (22-3) managed to pull away from Melissa for a 46-35 non-district basketball win at Melissa Middle School.
Forward Ashley Gideon and guard Wendy Clemmons led the Lady Cardinals with eight points each while Decatur forward Grace Lowery collected 14 points, and stood out defensively as well.
In these teams’ previous meeting - Dec. 14 in the Highway 5 tournament finals at Melissa - Decatur prevailed by a similar margin, 49-37.
This day, the Lady Eagles charged out fast but led by just two at halftime, 20-18.
“I thought today our biggest problem was, offensively, we were stagnant,” Melissa Head Coach Chris Oestreich said. “We didn’t move the ball well. When we did, and we started to get our transition going, we were pretty good. We’ve got to find a level of consistency with that when we play teams that are as good as they are.”
The Lady Cards (13-9) did bounce back with a 13-8 second quarter after trailing 12-5 at the end of one. “We changed what we were doing a little bit, with the structure of how we were setting up our offense,” Oestreich said. “That helped us a little bit. We used it in the second half too but we were just slow.”
Said Decatur Head Coach Lindsay Griffin, “We know that they’re very good at penetration, trying to get into the paint and score. Our goal today was to try to guard penetration as best we could – make them kick it and go to someone else. For the most part, I thought we did an excellent job of that.
“[Lowery] guarded Melissa’s No. 3 [Clemmons] who’s an excellent player - very, very quick – and we held her to single digits, which was our goal for the game.”
In the first stanza, a Gideon layup opened the scoring and her jumper from the lane gave the Lady Cards what would be their final lead of the game, 5-4, midway through the frame. From there, Melissa’s shots stopping falling for a time - including a Clemmons three that rimmed in and out – and the Lady Eagles pushed on to a seven-point edge as the quarter expired.
Guard Jayden Bullard quickly got the Lady Cards back in it at 12-9 with a pair of layups to start the second quarter. Then, as Decatur started to turn the ball over and look quite beatable, Gideon took a feed from guard Grace Moothart and got inside for two more, cutting the deficit to 12-11. The Lady Eagles got back to three-point leads three more times before halftime - and the Lady Cards replied each time: first, with a Gideon layup; second, with Bullard’s short jumper; and third, with less than 40 seconds left in the half, on Moothart’s big 3 from the left-front - off a Gideon assist - to tie it at 18.
A layup before the buzzer regained a slim edge for Decatur.
In the third, after Clemmons answered a Lady Eagles layup with a baseline drive for two, Decatur made its move. A steal and coast-to-coast layup followed by a fast-break bucket helped move the Lady Eagles’ advantage to eight points for the first time, 28-20, with 3:40 left in the stanza. Then, with full-court pressure, Decatur nabbed another steal for a layup to cap its 10-2 run since halftime.
A left-corner three put the Lady Eagles up, 33-21, but Melissa Mya Ellis fired back with a trey of her own from the left side. Mia Ellis’ free throw then kept the Lady Cards within striking distance, 33-25, as the third quarter ended.
Decatur’s lead got to 14 points in the fourth frame but, with 1:30 remaining in the game, the Lady Cards had chipped back to within nine, 44-35, on a Mya Ellis layup-and-one. Those, though, would be Melissa’s final points.
Asked what his team can take from this contest with Decatur, Oestreich said, “It’s the level of competition we want to play and compete against - them and teams like Argyle. That’s where we want to be, and I think we’re close. We’re closer than we were last year, obviously. They beat us by 30 at their place last year. Now we’ve played them two games a little bit closer.”
The Lady Cards begin District 11-4A play at Gainesville on Friday.
Decatur 12 8 13 13 - 46 Melissa 5 13 7 10 - 35
Melissa scoring – Ashley Gideon (eight), Wendy Clemmons (eight), Jayden Bullard (seven), Mya Ellis (six), Mia Ellis (three), Grace Moothart (three).