By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Editor
LEWISVILLE – To upset a No. 1 seed in the playoffs, the underdog must get off to a fast start, win the turnover battle, shut down the opposing team’s best player, and most importantly, get a little luck along the way.
McKinney High got the fast start it wanted Monday night in a 5A Region II bi-district playoff game.
But despite storming out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, the Lionettes could not maintain it and lost 54-40 to Dallas Skyline, the TABC’s No. 19 ranked team in the state.
McKinney finished the season 18-18 overall with the loss.
“Skyline is a very impressive team,” said Lionettes head coach Debbie Harris. “They are very athletic, very big, very strong, so there were no surprises. I think from a physical standpoint our kids were outmatched, but they competed well at times.”
In the confines of Lewisville High School, McKinney’s Mariah Mitchell and Jazsmin Nelson got the ball rolling for the Lionettes early in the first quarter as the two players scored the first seven points of the game. After forcing two turnovers on defense as well, McKinney’s aggressive start caused Skyline to take a timeout with 4:25 left in the first quarter.
Four minutes later, the Lady Raiders would take the lead for good with a layup by Marina Lilly to make it 8-7. Skyline added to its first quarter lead when Stabresa McDaniel knocked down a long three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Lady Raiders a four-point lead.
The Lionettes finally scored again in the first minute of the second quarter after nearly a five-minute drought, when Mitchell hit an easy layup to make it 13-9. With a substantial size advantage in the paint, the Lady Raiders began forcing the ball inside against a smaller Lionettes defense. This put McKinney in serious foul trouble and began sending Skyline to the free throw line, where the Lady Raiders made their last seven points of the first half to take a 28-17 lead into the locker room.
“They physically outplayed us, especially inside. There is no question that (Lilly) is an incredible post player. We struggled getting around her early,” said Harris.
In the third quarter, Mitchell began to make some shots for McKinney, scoring nine of her team-high 24 points in the frame. She would also finish with 10 rebounds in the game.
But for every basket she was making, McDaniel was countering with a bucket of her own for Skyline. She finished with 10 points in the third quarter and had a game-high 25 points on the evening.
“In the second half I didn’t think we pressure the ball from the guard position, which let them get the ball to (McDaniel) a lot,” said Harris. “There were some breakdowns because we can’t match up with those two, but we could have done things around the perimeter to make our job inside a little bit easier.”
After trailing 46-31 heading into the final quarter, McKinney got as close as 13 points in the fourth as Skyline did its best to run some time off the clock on offense. With the game well in the hand with about two minutes remaining, Harris pulled senior Nicole Quincy out of the game to a standing ovation from the Lionettes faithful, and the two shared an embrace on the bench for several seconds.
On a roster with just nine players, only two would be graduating at the end of the school year. Along with Quincy, senior guard Brittany Collard played her final game for the Lionettes on Monday night, finishing with two points off the bench.
“We have got a bunch of kids coming back, but we lost (Nicole) Quincy who played a lot of minutes for us, and then (Brittany) Collard was an emotional leader for us,” said Harris. “She was kind of the glue for this team that most fans don’t get to see, but from a coaching standpoint both of our senior contributed a lot to this team.”
Before the season most rival coaches and media experts wrote off the Lionettes in their first season in a very tough District 10-5A, and despite some ups and downs along the way, Harris said the thing that got them through the difficult times was playing as a team.
“I think the biggest thing that helped us in district is that our kids played as a team, and I have said that from day one. We beat a lot of people that we should not be on the court with, and that is just because our kids believe in each other. They won’t quit on themselves and they won’t quit on their teammates.”
McKinney will bring back four of the five starting players from the playoff game, including its top two scorers in Mitchell and Nelson. After a .500 record and a trip to the playoffs, Harris said the future is bright for the program.
“The whole season has been promising for me,” said Harris. “We have to get a lot better, there’s no question about it. I think the fact that we have a good nucleus coming back makes me very excited.”