By Rick Atkinson, For the Anna-Melissa Tribune


MELISSA – In a rematch of a thrilling overtime battle at Anna Jan. 17, Melissa’s Cardinals got to breathe easier Feb. 4 at home, taking a 63-38 win over the Coyotes. With the result, Melissa (5-1) stayed one game back of first-place Celina in the district race and the Coyotes (2-4) held on to playoff hopes, in fourth place with four games to go.


After surviving the previous meeting with Anna, 44-43, who could blame Cards head coach Eric Benton for expecting another nail-biter this night?


“I really thought we’d have to grind one out,” he said after the comfortable victory. “And that’s how it was early. I thought we defended really well and were able to take away some things that they hurt us on over at their place. Especially in the second half, we were really locked-in defensively. … I think we did a really good job of taking the middle of the floor away, making some of those looks tough.”


On the offensive end, the Cards nailed five big threes by the early second quarter to lead 17-9.


Ezra Monroe led Melissa with 16 points and guard CJ Shellie sent home 12. The Cards popped for 10 three-pointers all told, including four in the first quarter. With guard Phoenix Bramhall knocking down a game-high three threes, guards Hudson Czarnecki and CJ Shellie sinking two treys each - and Monroe attacking inside - the Coyotes had their hands full.


It was Bramhall’s back-to-back, left-corner treys to start the second half that gave the Cards a daunting 33-19 advantage.


“Regardless of what the score is, the first two minutes of the second half are always so big,” Benton said. “Phoenix hits a couple and then the basket starts looking bigger for everybody. When you can make some shots, now they’ve got to extend out a little more and it just creates so much space. And Ezra is hard enough to keep in front of you when you’re in the right gaps and places. When you stretch it out a little bit, it’s really hard to handle him.”


Said Anna head coach Kyle Phifer, “They did a great job of creating open shots and we did a very poor job of getting around and catching them. You’ve got to give them credit. From the moment the ball was tipped they hit shots.” Offensively, Phifer added, “I thought the first time [at Anna] we did a better job of moving.”


Coyote foward Jaden Adams posted a team-high 10 points while guard Josiah Mackey finished with nine. Anna collected eight three-pointers, with five coming in the second half. Adams and Mackey logged two deep-ball buckets apiece.


Monroe was asked how the Cards approached this game, “I felt like we just needed to focus on the next shot - taking good shots and being where we need to be on defense,” he said. “We didn’t shoot the ball very well the first time so I knew coming into this game it was going to be a way better outcome. … I think we played probably one of our best defensive games. And a big shout-out to the fans. That helped with our defense too, just getting in their heads.”


Shellie got Melissa going with a pair a NBA-plus threes in the first quarter. “If I’m open I just shoot it,” he said. “If I feel like I’m going to make it, I shoot it. If I miss it, just keep going.” Shellie also noted that defense – and good ball movement on offense - were keys to the Cards’ success.


Of his consecutive threes to open the third frame, Bramhall said, “That kind of set the tone. That put some weight on their shoulders. … I think our offense is really coming together. Our fans were a big help tonight, too.”


As the game wound down, Melissa’s student section started chants of “Just like football” and “Start the bus.” When the chant went to “Let’s play baseball,” highly-respected Anna pitcher and Texas A&M commit Rawley Hector - standing with Anna students across the way - smiled and nodded back.


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Anna 9 10 9 10 - 38


Melissa 14 13 24 12 - 63


Anna scoring – Jaden Adams, 10; Josiah Mackey, 9; Jaiden Campbell, 8; Jayden Rodgers, 5; Zay Gentry, 3; Kadrian Evans, 1.


Melissa scoring – Ezra Monroe, 17; CJ Shellie, 12; Phoenix Bramhall, 9; Hudson Czarnecki, 8; Tavenor Watts, 8; Daxx Dunnahoe, 7; Jaron Withers, 2.