Win or go home: Rusk, J’ville, Alto and NS in playoffs
The last week of February is a good week to separate the contenders from the pretenders in high school basketball. District slates for the boys wind down, while girls’ playoff contenders are in the midst of their playoff runs.
For five county teams – the Rusk, Jacksonville, Alto and New Summerfield varsity boys and the Jacksonville varsity girls – the season continues as each team becomes both hunters and hunted.
Before the playoffs tipped off last night, the Rusk Eagles still had one more opponent to face in district play.
Eagles past Hudson
In January, Hudson came back from a 10-point deficit against Rusk to pick up a 57-54 victory. For Hudson, it was a solid Homecoming win.
For Rusk, it was a wake-up call.
“After that first round of district, we were 3-4,” said Rusk Head Coach Tracy Kincade. “I told the guys that we had to go 5-2 to get in. They told me, ‘Coach, we can go 7-0.’”
Were it not for an overtime loss against Center, they would have done so.
The Eagles used the hot hands of their guards to take the lead early in the second half after being down a single point at halftime. Rusk would never relinquish the lead as they defeated the Hornets, 65-59, at Eagle Coliseum.
“We didn’t play well in the first half, but we took the lead and never gave it up,” Coach Kincade said. “We made our free throws – 12-15 in the second half to put the game away.”
Derrick Sanders led the way for Rusk with 20 points. Michael Katon added 13 and Damario Richards notched 12. Taj Cleaver added eight points.
The win gave Rusk momentum as they advanced to the bi-district round of the playoffs, where they took on the Bullard Panthers (23-10, 8-2 in District 18-3A) last night at Lon Morris College. The Panthers finished behind Tatum but ahead of Chapel Hill.
Coach Kincade said that the first half of district served to motivate himself and his team.
“They were frustrated because they knew they could do better,” he said. “We held the lead late against Diboll, Hudson and Jasper and went on to lose those games. Now, we’re back to playing well and playing fast like we were earlier in the year.”
Now, the Eagles are back in a place they have not visited in eight years: the playoffs.
“Playing well against Hudson prepares us to play Bullard,” Coach Kincade said. “They had battles with Tatum and Chapel Hill, but we beat Tatum once and Chapel Hill twice (in regular season play). We’re battle-tested, they’re a good team and it should be a great game.”
Fightin’ Maidens fall in 2nd
The Jacksonville Fightin’ Maidens lived on the edge all season long. In their first playoff game, they walked that fine line and stayed on course.
In their second playoff game, they were knocked over the edge.
The Maidens started their playoff run against the Mount Pleasant Lady Tigers last Tuesday night in Hawkins. The Lady Tigers finished fourth in their district, but their district included stateranked Longview, so their 11-16 record was deceiving.
The Lady Tigers proved that, jumping out to a two-point lead in the first and a fivepoint lead at the half. Mount Pleasant would lead by as many as seven in the fourth quarter before the Maidens and sophomore post Amber Hawkins worked that lead down to two points near the end of the fourth.
Senior Tanika Lucas-Clay, who had not scored to that point, drove to the basket with only seconds left in regulation and hit a teardrop layup to tie the game at 32.
Hawkins went to work on the inside again during overtime, employing her two-inch height advantage to propel the Fightin’ Maidens to a 39-36 overtime victory.
Hawkins led all scorers with 19 points. Chancii Scott added six for the Maidens.
Shanicquia Grant led Mount Pleasant with 14 points. Autumn Stinson added 10.
Jacksonville advanced to the second round to take on Mesquite Poteet last Friday and the game was almost more of the same.
Poteet jumped out to a lead through the first three quarters; Jacksonville was forced to climb back from a deficit.
After falling behind by 10 at the half, Hawkins and reserve Jessica Hunter used their inside presences to bring the Maidens back within three points.
Poteet used a full-court press the entire game to pressure Jacksonville’s guards, but the Maidens broke through the press in the second half.
With five seconds left in the game and Jacksonville down three, Lucas-Clay found herself wide open from beyond the arc. The shot missed, but Lucas-Clay was fouled and had one more chance to bring the Maidens back.
Unfortunately, she would only go two out of three and Poteet would hit one more free throw to pick up the 36- 34 win.
Hawkins led the Maidens with 15 points. Hunter added eight.
Shanovia Gamblin and Sarah Thompson both scored 10 to lead the Lady Pirates.
Other Tuesday matchups
The Jacksonville Fightin’ Indians (23-6), winners of District 14-4A, took on the Marshall Mavericks (23-10) last night at Wagstaff Gymnasium on the campus of Tyler Junior College.
The winner will meet the winner of the Red Oak-Waco High first-round game.
The Alto Yellowjackets (10-15) took on the Broaddus Bulldogs last night at Woden High School.
The winner of that game advanced to take on Cayuga, ranked first in Division I of Class 1-A.
The New Summerfield Hornets (19-12), the second-place finisher in District 21-A: Division I, took on Hubbard (21- 9) Tuesday night at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens. The winner advanced to take on Grapeland.