The 2014-2015 Mckinney Christian Lady Mustangs basketball team had one of the most successful seasons in school history, but were stymied once again in their bid to return to the state tournament as they fell to Midland Classical Academy in the regional finals, 67-57 in overtime Tuesday in Cisco, Texas. The game was uncomfortably similar to last year’s regional finals game that was played a few miles down the road on I 20 in Clyde, Texas where two very good teams squared off and went toe to toe to the last before Midland walked off with the ticket to the Final Four and Mckinney got a bus ticket home. In each game the Mustangs had the ball with a chance to win a tie game in the closing seconds only to fail to get a shot off and eventually lose in the extra period. Also in both cases, foul trouble plagued the Mustangs in the second half and in the extra time. Last year the Mustangs lost one starter to disqualification prior to the conclusion of regulation and this year they lost three, the entire frontline, as a return to the state finals eluded the Mustangs yet again.
For a little historical perspective, the reader should know that the Mustangs went to the state tournament in their inaugural basketball season in 2003-04, losing to San Antonio’s Believers Academy in the Class A semifinals, but returned to the state tournament the following year to claim the state Class A title. The following year MCA moved to Class 2A, ousting the 7 time defending champion Muenster Sacred Heart in the Area and then lost to, guess who? Midland Classic in the Regionals, in overtime. Classic went on to claim the state title that year with relative ease. Over the next 8 years the Mustangs advanced to the Regional finals 5 additional times and each time, including the last two in a row they have come up short against the eventual state champion.
This year marked the Mustangs’ ninth Regional appearance in their 12 year history and this year looked to have a different outcome to the recent disappointments. The Mustangs came into the regional tournament riding a 22 game winning streak at 29-3. They had won both tournaments they entered including the very tough S & S Consolidated Tourney and also claimed their own MCA Round Ball Round Up Trophy. Their three in season losses were by a total of 9 points and they had avenged two of them. The third was to 4-A power Dallas Christian. In their wake the Mustangs had beaten 4 time Class A state champion North Central Texas Academy, perenniel 2-A State Champion Texoma Christian, former 4 A State Finalist, Trinity Cedar Hill (twice), this year’s UIL 3-A quarter finalist Van Alstyne and had claimed the number one seed out of District 3-3A with a 16-1 record and average margin of victory of 37 points. More importantly, they had just vanquished another old nemesis, Amarillo San Jacinto, in the Area finals the night before, winning their 30th game of the season by obliterating them, 65-39 behind a balanced attack led by Junior Hannah Wilks’ 20 points and 30, yes, THIRTY, rebounds and 5 blocks.
Of course, history means nothing in the playoffs, it’s win and advance, lose and go home. It is a hard lesson learned. Another hard lesson learned is that, as alluded to in the opening paragraph, it is difficult to win with your hosses on the bench. The Mustangs have come by their success this year deservedly. They put extra work this year into strength and conditioning, put in extra work on Saturday mornings, and played a tough non district schedule. Early on it looked like it would pay off as Hannah directed the opening tip to sister Marissa who hit Julie James down the right side for a 2-0 lead. Hannah then rejected the Knight’s first offering in the lane and James took it the distance for a quick 4-0 lead. James then picked Classic’s point guard, A Beattie’s pocket for a steal, but the Mustangs missed a point blank shot underneath and a chance for a 6-0 lead and allowed the Knights to catch their breath. Classic then broke the Mustangs pressure for an easy layup to get on the board and the Mustangs missed another bunny. They nightmare began in earnest when Beattie drew a foul in the lane and converted both free throws for a 4-4 tie. This would mark the beginning of a daylong parade of 34 free throws to the line for Classic. Beattie would go 11-14, Johnson 9-14, D Griffin 4 of 4 as Midland would go 25-34 from the stripe as a team, while the Mustangs would get to the line a paltry 10 times, making only 5 of them. That 20 point differential would prove huge in this closely contested affair.
James scored from the left side, was fouled, but missed the bonus and after Classic had retied the score she then found Makenna Schulte underneath for an 8-6 lead. Marissa followed another Knights layup with a 15 footer, but then Hannah was called for her first foul as she swatted Beatties’ driving layup away as the official away from the play called her for body contact. They would remember her number and call it often. Beattie converted both for a 10-10 tie. Beattie then got loose for a three on a fast break swing and moments later, after a Mustang turnover, Hannah was whistled for number two on a post move by Johnson who sank both freebies. James answered with a jumper to go to 15-12, but Beattie sprinted up the floor, pulled up at the arc and drilled another trey at the buzzer for a 18-12 first quarter lead.
Griffin got loose for a layup to start the 2nd for Classic but Schulte kicked out to Hannah on the perimeter for her first points of the game, a three ball and it was 20-15. Johnson answered with a post move in the lane, but James went down low for an offensive rebound and dropped to Schulte for a deuce and after Beattie missed badly on a trey attempt, James hit a jumper to make it tight at 22-19. One of the marks of a good offensive player is a short memory for bad shots and Beattie came right back with the same look, off of a high ball screen from Johnson she nailed her third three of the half, 25-19. Schulte fouled Griffin who made two free throws and then after a Mustang turnover, Beattie got free off another screen from Johnson. Hannah picked her up, but also picked up her third foul of the half, this one legit, as she swatted Beattie across the nose on her penetration and layup attempt. Understandably, Beattie missed the first free-throw, but made the second. Hannah then made a great pull down offensive board off a James miss and powered back up for two, 28-21, but Johnson came right back with a 15 footer over Marissa as Hannah was obliged to switch coverage after the foul trifecta.
Basketball experts will tell you finishing halves are critical going into the break and with a buck thirty to go things were starting to look better for the ‘Stangs as their leading scorer Hannah was starting to get rolling. She blocked another Beattie shot attempt, got a steal, and then went coast to coast closing the deal with nifty spin move to a left handed finish for her 7th point of the quarter. The next 30 seconds, however would be cataclysmic for the Mustangs. After Wilks basket, the Knight’s speedy Griffin raced up the floor finding the Mustangs out of position. Hannah crossed though the fray only in time to foul her on the layup, picking up her fourth and forcing her to the bench. Sometimes a single play may give you a hint that the stars are against you. Here we have two. After Schulte made one of two freebies, James pressed the defense on Beattie and caught her crossover, knocking it into her feet. As James went for the steal, it caromed to the wing where Griffin and the Mustang’s Kayce Zanetell both dove for the loose ball. Griffin won the tussle and from her back, bounced the ball back to Beattie who quickly drained her 4th trey of the game to give the Knights their biggest lead of the game at 35-24. The Mustangs responded with a steal by Schulte at mid court. She pitched to James who dropped nicely to Marissa for the halftime score, 35-26 as the Mustangs hobbled to the locker room, bloody but unbowed as Henley put it. It would get bloodier, literally and figuratively.
The Mustangs started the second half well enough with a jumper by James, a defensive stop, one of two free throws by Marissa, and another stop, but the game’s story changed irretrievably when Hannah picked up her 5th foul on a charge one minute into the second half. Suddenly, with a full half to play the Mustangs were without their top scorer and rebounder and the Defensive Player of the Year from District 3-3A. They could have folded their tent then and there, but these Mustangs are fighters and they still had their Captain, district MVP, Julie James and a group of battle tested, well conditioned warriors. Beattie made 2 more free throws after a foul by James, but Sr Lily Thompson stepped up with a big three from the right side to give the Mustangs renewed hope at 37-32. The Mustang defense stiffened, James got a steal and worked the give and go with Zanetell to cut the lead to 3 at 37-34. The Mustangs got two different three point looks to tie but came up empty. Schulte caught an inadvertent elbow from Johnson on a rebound attempt, splitting her lip that would later require stitches. The resultant bloody jersey changes would confuse the scorekeeper. She was obligated to the sideline for medical attention and she was replaced by sophomore Jackie Greenwell. Johnson then begin to assert her influence in the paint for the Knights with a put back and another layup. Marissa scored on a nice putback herself despite a hip check by the Knights. Coach Brock’s protest of the contact inequity drew the first technical foul of his 8 years at the helm of MCA. Beattie made one of two for the Knights would score their remaining 5 points of the period on 5 of 8 free throws as every defensive effort for the Mustangs seemed to result in fouls towards the close of the period. Schulte recovered to return to action and registered another putback and James hit another jumper to keep the Mustangs in it at 46-40 after 3 rounds.
The fourth period would be desperate fight for playoff survival for the Mustangs with Hannah on the bench and the fouls were stacking up against the remaining Mustang frontline. as Marissa and. Schulte opened the Mustang 4th with a drive through the lane after a feed from Zanetell, but was called for a foul, her 5th on the next Knight’s possession. The Mustangs were down two starters with one quarter to play. James closed the lead to two on a pull up jumper in the paint. Midland sandwiched two more free throws around a Mustang miss for a 48-44 advantage, but after another Mustang miss James and Zanetell surrounded the Knight rebounder, James wrested the ball from her in the Mustang lane and scored the basket as she was fouled. She coolly completed the three point play, and the Mustangs were back in the game in a big way at 48-47. However, the Mustangs were quickly whistled for a backcourt foul, the third straight Midland possession resulting in a foul and Griffin knocked down two more for a 50-47 advantage. James answered with two more freebies herself to keep pace at 50-49. Johnson, who scored most all of the 4th quarter points for the Knights then scored on a putback, but James answered again with a running layup over Johnson and it was 52-51. It was all James and Johnson down the stretch and Johnson wasn’t finished. She came right back with a drive down the left lane to go back up three with 3 to play.
It was a night of arguable calls, but the next one will have the Mustangs scratching their heads for a while. Thompson chased down a high pass and tossed it to Marissa who was securing the ball as she was slammed to the floor by the Knights. Astonishingly, Marissa was called for the her 4th foul and the Mustangs lost possession with 2:30 to go. Despite the setback, the Mustang resolve and their defense did not waver as Marissa and Zanetell forced a trap in the half court and tipped the ball over to James. Advancing back to Zanetell on the wing who found Marissa in the paint for a twisting jumper over Johnson and DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES ?, the Mustangs, playing without two starters had battled back from an 11 point deficit to regain the lead, their first lead of the game since the first quarter at 55-54 with 2 minutes left. It would be short-lived. Johnson stole a Mustang inbounds pass and drew a foul from Marissa, her 5th, and the third Mustang starter was forced to sit with a minute and a half to go. The Mustangs would play crunch time against the defending state champions with three starters on the bench.
And wouldn’t you know it, they almost pulled it off. Sophomore Anna Keebler came into the game to see her first meaningful playoff action this year. Together with fellow sophomore Greenwell and the three senior Mustang guards: James, Zanetell, and Thompson, the Mustangs went into the delay game to play for one last shot. The Mustang guards did a nice job of running the clock to from a one minute thirty to just under 20 tics and the plan was to get a last timeout with 15 seconds to play, however with 17 seconds to play Beattie tipped a Mustang pass and Johnson came up with the ball for the Knights and drove hard for a layup which just rolled off the rim. Greenwell rebounded kicked to Zanetell who found James on the outlet who fired to Thompson up court at the left arc, but her shot attempt was blocked at the buzzer and the Mustangs were back in familiar territory. In the Regionals, in overtime, with Midland Classic.
Of course, the Mustangs would have to play the extra 4 minute with their frontline law firm of Wilks, Schulte and Wilks on the sidelines. It started well enough as the athletic Greenwell got the tip and Keebler popped in a 17 footer for a 57-55 lead. The Knights smartly attacked the basket with the big three on the bench and Johnson tied the game on a strong post move at 57 all. It looked like the two teams would continue their give and take battle to the very end, but the Mustangs did not hold up their end of the deal. They would not score again. They would get get looks but nothing would drop while Classic continued to attack the devastated middle to win going away at 67-57.
Interestingly, James, Beattie and Johnson would each score 27 points on the day. James would add 6 steals 5 rebounds and 5 assists to her line in the last game of a remarkable career as a Mustang. Schulte and Marissa Wilks ended with 9 points each for MCA while Hannah Wilks had 7. Marissa had 9 rebs and Schulte 7. Thompson had 3 pts and Keebler 2.
Griffin would score 8 and Jones would add 5 for Classic who advance to the final four for the second year in a row to play their district 2 rival Lubbock Christian, a 68-57 winner over Ft Worth Lake Country. Midland would lose to Lubbock 46-41 and Lubbock went on to claim the state title with a 64-44 win over 35-1 Houston Lutheran.
By Qtrs 1 2 H 3 4 Final
MCA 21 14 35 19 11 65
Amarillo San Jac 6 9 15 13 11 39
Stats H Wilks 20 points 30 rebs and 5 blocks. James 16 pts, 8 reb 5 asst 3 steals, Schulte 10 pts 3 rebs, M Wilks 10 pts 6 rebs, Zanetell 9 pts
MCA 12 14 26 14 15 55 2 57
Mid Cl 18 17 35 11 9 55 12 67
Submitted by Coach Brock