By Rick Atkinson

For the Anna-Melissa Tribune

CARROLLTON – The hopes and dreams associated with a first-round playoff game sometimes quickly meet reality. That was the case for Anna’s Lady Coyotes Feb. 17, when they met perennial state power Dallas Lincoln at R.L. Turner High School.

Applying full-court pressure from the start, the ultra-quick Lady Tigers blitzed for two steals, a 3-pointer, two layups and a forced turnover to lead, 9-0, with one minute elapsed in the contest. Lincoln would be up, 27-6, by the end of one quarter and go on to win this Class 4A Region II bi-district matchup, 69-45. The feisty Lady Coyotes held their own after that first quarter - even outscoring the victors in the second half - but could never put a real dent in Lincoln’s opening salvo. All told, the Lady Tigers nabbed 14 steals, with eight coming in that first frame.

“They’re just on another level, a level that we aspire to get to at some point,” Anna head coach Justin Baldia said. “They’ve been really good for a long time. They have a pedigree of greatness and it showed. All credit to them. They got after us for 32 minutes. You can’t prepare for that other than experiencing it. … We were a little shell-shocked. After that first quarter, we adjusted to it. We won the second half, which is huge. … I’m proud of all the girls’ efforts.”

Making things more challenging for the Lady Coyotes in facing 16th-ranked Lincoln was the fact that they were short-handed. Starting guard Kaycee Redwine was still on concussion protocol, starting forward Bre Traylor was out with a foot injury and forward Kylie Agerlid aggravated an ankle during pre-game warmups. Junior forward Qua Fisher posted a team-high 18 points for Anna and Lady Coyotes senior guard Marianna Bert knocked down 17. Bert drained 10-of-14 shots from the free-throw line and Fisher went a perfect 8-for-8.

Lincoln’s Alexis Brown led all scorers with 23 points while teammate Heaven Hayden tallied 17. JaMya Maryland canned three 3s for the Lady Tigers in the decisive first quarter.

Asked about his team’s overwhelming pressure-defense to start the game, first-year Lincoln head coach Darrin Samuels said, “Usually we’re the shortest team, so in order for us to be successful we’ve got to turn the ball over and we’ve got to hit shots. Anna played great. They were short-handed tonight. Everybody played with class on their team. Anna should be really proud of their team.”

With five seconds left in the game and the outcome long-since decided, Baldia called the Lady Coyotes’ final timeout of the season. “I just wanted to share a moment with them,” he said. “Just us - nobody else, no distractions. I just showed them that I love them.”

Anna, the fourth seed out of District 11-4A at 5-5, finishes the season with an overall record of 17-11. The 22-8 Lady Tigers, District 12-4A’s second seed and a 2019 state-semifinalist, move on to face Benbrook in the area round. For five Anna seniors this game marked the end of their high school careers.

“We were expecting it, but we weren’t,” senior forward Lexi Stewart said of Lincoln’s pressure and quickness. “But I’m kind of proud because we beat them in the last two quarters. It was just the first quarter that got us down.”

“They’re one great team,” Bert said. “We just came out slower than we intended to. But I’m proud of how we came back. I think that shows a lot about us as a team and our chemistry together. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Said senior forward Shataelyn King, “Considering that we won two quarters without one of the two strongest people on our team [Traylor], I felt like we did good.”

“I was just proud watching as everybody else had to step up,” Redwine said. “They didn’t have all their leaders that they usually have on the court. But after the first quarter, they realized they needed to step it up and they did.”

Said Traylor, “We expected [Lincoln] to come out like that and we should’ve done the same thing in the first half. But we all played with heart.”

The Lady Coyotes last reached the post-season two years ago, falling in a close, first-round match to Quinlan Ford, 41-38.

As for getting back to the playoffs as a senior, Bert said, “It meant everything. That was our goal from the start – take it one game at a time and just get in. We did that. Obviously, we would have liked to have gone further but I wouldn’t have traded this experience for the world.” “We had bigger goals - going farther in the playoffs,” Stewart said, “but our main goal was to make the playoffs.”

King added, “It meant a lot.” The Lady Coyotes’ best quarter was perhaps the third, when they posted their top point total of the night to edge out Lincoln, 17-16. Anna sophomore Emma Godwin came off the bench in that stanza to hit five points - including a right-side 3 off the glass - and Bert also hit from downtown enroute to five points. Fisher drained six-straight free throws in that frame as well.

The Lady Coyotes opened the fourth with a Stewart left-side layup and two free throws from Bert to get within 22, at 63-41, but Lincoln quickly answered with back-to-back buckets. Anna’s final points would also be Bert’s last as a Lady Coyote – a pair of swished free throws for the game’s final margin. ______________________________________________________

Anna 6 14 17 8 - 45

Lincoln 27 20 16 6 - 69

Anna scoring – Qua Fisher 18, Marianna Bert 17, Emma Godwin 7, Lexi Stewart 2, Lyric Evans 1.