The McKinney Christian Academy girls basketball season came to an abrupt end Saturday with a second-round knockout by Lake Country Christian School that was both figurative and literal.
The Mustangs were dispatched 56-34 by a very physical Lake Country team in the Area finals, the second round, as they fell victim to a their own playoff jitters and a couple of hard knocks to their only senior, captain Natalie Lemieux, that left her and the team reeling into a disastrous 11 minute stretch from which they would not recover. The Mustangs actually won the second half 26-25 but they don’t give any prizes nor regional tickets for that and they will spend the rest of the playoffs at home.
“We ran into a really good, well coached team,” MCA coach Lee Brock said. “They exposed some of our weaknesses. We could and will learn a lot from them that we will use next year. It was obviously disappointing to lose Natalie (to injury). Our prayers have been with her. I think she is going to be okay. Losing her so early really hurt our offense and our defense. It was more disappointing to see a few girls on their team talk and play the way did. I hope not to hear reports that our team is less than sportsmanlike on the floor. It is something we emphasize repeatedly, to model Christ.”
Brock continued, “Still, we all fall short at times. Hopefully, this was a one time thing for them. The film shows egregious behavior by at least one of their players, perhaps two, that is being addressed through proper channels.”
The Mustangs knew they would be in a battle early on as they traveled to Lake Country’s home floor. Lake Country was a state semifinalist last year with a 26-5 season record this season, a 10-0 district record, a #1 seed and a #4 state ranking. Despite this, the Mustangs probably still did not expect quite the battle they got.
The Eagles’ big frontline of Kensi Boenker and Julianne Leeper began to hurt the Mustangs early in the paint. The Mustangs countered with baskets by the scoring leaders Kaitlynn McAdams and Julie James before sharp shooter Jessica Dornak shook loose for a 3-pointer to put Lake country up 11-4 half way through the first quarter. It was the Mustangs’ ensuing possession, however, when Lake Country landed their second biggest blow of the night. Lemieux tried to counter Dornak by firing a three point shot up from the left side that was contested by Savannah Dodson who proceeded to put Lemieux on the floor with a strong box out. With their legs entangled, Dodson standing over the supine Mustang, she turned and landed a Chuck Liddel MMA style jab to the side of Lemieux’s head, leaving her prostrate on the floor. The referees stopped the action, but no fouls were assessed and Lemieux was assisted from the floor after a lengthy delay.
With Lemieux, a first team all district selection, out of the line up the Mustang attack began to wither noticeably both offensively and defensively. Confusion on the offensive play sets compounded by the relentless Eagle attack produced a 16-6 deficit before Lemieux returned to the lineup. It was only 30 seconds later, however, that Lake Country’s big 6-foot post, Boenker, the largest player on the floor landed the knockout blow of the night as she set a back pick on Lemieux, the smallest player on the floor, in the backcourt while the Mustangs applied the full court press to get back in the game. The combination of Boenker’s height and Lemieux’s lack of it resulted in a firm elbow to the left temple and Lemieux was laid out for the second time in 3 minutes. Again, no fouls were called. This time she would not return.
For practical purposes, neither would the Mustangs. Lake Country closed the quarter with a flourish over the beleaguered Mustangs. Dornak hit another trey. James hit two free throws for MCA, but Leeper hit on another post move at the buzzer and the defensive minded Mustangs had given up 21 points in the first quarter and were down 21-8.
The Mustangs’ defense stiffened a bit in the second quarter holding Lake Country to half of their first quarter output at 11 points, but the offense failed to respond. They had several open looks, but could not connect and were completely shut out in the period. McAdams and James who led the Mustangs in scoring all season long, came up empty as did backup guard soph Lauren Sanford who replaced Lemieux. Sanford had given the Mustangs an offensive spark at times this season, but Sanford herself had to leave late in the half due to illness and the Mustangs limped to the locker room down 32-8 at the intermission.
MCA came out with a little fire in the second half and got the offense untracked as McAdams began to find the range with 4 quick points and followed with two three pointers that hit nothing but net. James added a driving layup and Missy Grollnek hit a pair of free throws as the Mustangs hit for 14 in the third. Problem was, Lake Country continued to score themselves with Dornak hitting yet another trey and Alyson Mitchell hitting one as well. Leeper continued to pour in points with 7 and Boenker added one for good measure for a 46-22 third quarter score.
The Mustangs finally got the better of Lake Country in the 4th on 7 more by McAdams, 3 by James and 2 by freshman Kayce Zanetell while Leeper scored 5 more for LCCS. It was far too little and far too late, a 56-34 final count, and on to the regionals for the Eagles and a rematch with Amarillo San Jacinto. Last year in the regional game, Lake Country prevailed by one point on a buzzer beater to propel them to the Final Four where they would lose in the semis to Tomball Rosehill, the eventual champion.
McAdams scored 17 points in the second half to end with 19 and lead the Mustangs and led in boards with 6. James followed with 11 points, 5 assists and 4 steals. Freshmen Zanetell and Grollnek each ended with two points as the only other Mustangs to score.
Leeper led all scorers with 25 for the Eagles followed by Dornak with 14 and Boenker with 10.
MCA ends the season with a 21-12 record and will lose only one starter, Lemieux, to graduation as they look to return next season for a deeper run into the playoffs.
“Overall, this was a successful season,” Brock said, “21 wins, one shot away from first place in district, three first team all district players (Kaitlynn , Julie and Natalie),a second team all district (Sidney) and an honorable mention (Sarah), a last second playoff win and an acquired wealth of knowledge of basketball by a very young team. If we work hard in the off season we can return as a very formidable team, like the one we just played, for district and the playoffs next year.
“Mostly, I am proud of the girls who worked hard and played hard this year and that our team served as good ambassadors for Christ and MCA wherever we went.”