In the past, Sherry McKinnon admits she’s erred on the side of caution when allowing her teams to press too much.
But on Tuesday, the longtime Lady Eagles coach threw caution to the wind and let her girls go wild on defense.
“They’re just like little babies wanting to be fed and wanting to absorb because they want to do what we’re asking them to do as a coaching staff,” McKinnon said, crediting a complete dedication to defense by her entire coaching staff for her deciding to open things up.
“And these girls are just eating it up, because we’re going to do everything in our power as coaches to help them be the best they can be, and they want that.”
That defensive eagerness paid off all night against the overmatched Lady Leopards, with Ellison racking up 17 steals and leading 20-3 after the opening quarter en route to a 61-14 blowout of Lorena on Tuesday evening.
“They understand that the defensive turnovers will create offense for them, and I’m just very proud of them tonight,” McKinnon said.
Chomping at the bit to wreak havoc, the Lady Eagles’ turnover machine started early and often, forcing Lorena into 25 turnovers, including 17 in the first half.
“(Defense wins championships is) coach McKinnon’s favorite quote and she puts an emphasis on defense, so we just pay more attention to defense,” said sophomore post Brianna Gray, who led Ellison with 15 points. “Because we could score one basket and play good defense the entire game and not have to score again.”
Beginning with the first of Gray’s four 3-pointers on their opening possession, Ellison’s rout was on. Following a three-point play from senior guard Kenesha Saygo and a bucket by Lorena’s Morgan Freels three minutes into the game, the Lady Eagles opened things up with a 14-0 run over the next 4½ minutes that included 10 points from sophomore post Jordanna Porter — her only points of the game.
Ellison rolled up a 31-4 run between made baskets by Lorena — a span of 15½ minutes — ending with a turn around jumper from Rachel Nicoletti with 5½ minutes left in the third. The Lady Leopards shot just 4-of-18 from the field all night, compared to 23 of 47 (49 percent) shooting from the Lady Eagles.
“That’s one of our real big strengths this year, we’re not pretty good, we’re a good shooting team,” McKinnon said.
Gray led all scorers with 15 points to go along with Porter’s 10 and nine points apiece from 6-foot-1 post Kaitlyn Shearer and Deja Pointer, who added all her points on three 3-pointers.
The complete scoring effort came despite just six points from Saygo, the team’s senior captain and point guard. Of course, her impact came in other ways, including four steals and a handful of assists.
“I told her one of the smartest decisions she made was when Kaitlyn got a little frustrated after getting two steals and not making those (transition buckets) — you could see it on her face — and (Saygo) came and fed her and let her know that ‘we still believe in you,’” McKinnon said.
But before next Tuesday’s district opener against Waco Midway, Ellison faces its toughest test of the season when No. 2 Pflugerville (14-0) comes to town Friday at 6:30 p.m.
“Really proud of them because they’re playing really hard ball, they want it so bad and they’re doing all the right things to get it done,” McKinnon said. “We’re just making so few mistakes, and I don’t think we’ve peaked, so we’re going into district in a good position.”