After building up momentum over the past couple of weeks, head coach Anthony Branch and the Lady Tiger basketball squad capitalized on the positive trend and closed the first round of district play with a 43-34 win over the Stafford Lady Spartans last Friday night at Sealy High School.
With the score tied at 11 after one quarter of play, the host Lady Tigers used a 13-7 second quarter to take a lead into halftime although Stafford came out and re-tied the game at 24 in the third. However, following a three-pointer from Evelyn Harrington, Sealy never relinquished the lead again and cruised to victory to put a positive spin on the first round of play within District 25-4A.
Avery Oliver and Brylie Bond led the way in the scoring department with double-digit totals, 13 and 11 respectively, with Evelyn Harrington (8), Heaven Hernandez (5) and Marleeza Williams (4) right behind. In addition, Oliver registered 11 rebounds and had Eastlynn Cloud (9) and Bond (7) hot on her heels.
After the game, Branch cited their efforts in being crucial to the win.
“Avery Oliver played really, really well, that's one of the best games I've seen her play in a while,” the coach said. “I thought Evelyn was much better under control, she played very calm didn't get upset. Brylie was just gutting it up doing whatever she could even though she wasn't feeling good. Marleeza comes in and first off does a really good job there on offense and then defensively does great. And then Heaven comes in and she continues to get better at handling the ball and being more confident.”
That confidence has been more and more evident as of late throughout the whole team and it’s coming at the perfect time in Branch’s eyes.
“It's just going back to things that they're starting to figure out; they're starting to play like the team they know they are, they're starting to do all the communication, there's so many things like that,” Branch said after the win.
One of the keys to the victory, from his sideline perspective, was the team’s commitment to boxing out and taking charges, earning more possessions for their offense.
“I always say, block out. Tonight, I didn’t have to say it,” Branch said. “They're communicating that, they have really bought into blocking out, and that's something I'm very proud of. I think they take pride in that and we got them to take pride in taking charges, as well.”
That, with some gas added onto the fire by the fan’s energy, all made for a winning combination on Friday night.
“Then you talk about the fans and the energy; they're so supportive of each other and that's the reason why they've put themselves in this position where they're at,” the coach said.
That position is right on the verge of taking the fourth-place spot for the final playoff position and Branch and the team knows their seat at the table is not far away.
“We're one spot out of the four spot and I think two games out from that third spot so we're OK,” the coach added. “We let some games that we could have won get away, but we'll learn and we get a chance to play them all again.”
The first one on the list came earlier this week on Tuesday when the winless Needville Lady Jays came to town, although Branch knew better than to take the winless record for granted.
“Needville's gonna be ready, they want to get a win,” he said. “When I watch film, they did some things that first game that we had not seen, that they had not shown on video. So now that we have that, I can prepare a little bit more as far as what they do offensively so that we can continue playing our man defense that we've been doing.”
After that will be a road trip to Brookshire Royal before an early-week bye precedes a Jan. 31 contest with Wharton at home. Altogether, the entire team and coaching staff is not only ready for the second round to start but isn’t ready for the end to come just yet.
When asked what he was most looking forward to about the beginning of the second round, Branch said, “just continuing seeing the growth and the progress of them. And not just (the varsity) but our entire program.
“I'm really excited about what I think this second half starts. I know this, I'm not looking forward to when it’s over because it's been rewarding for me to see this team gut up and just get after it,” Branch said. “We talk as coaches that you've got to be along for the journey, the ride, one day at a time and it's getting close. We're under a month away and I don't want it to be over. It's fun, they’re just a bunch of great kids, they're fun to be around and they're willing to do whatever.”