Sherry McKinnon didn’t want to put Kenesha Saygo on the court.
The Ellison coach’s prized point guard was battling the flu. But the Lady Eagles were down 24-18 to crosstown rival Harker Heights. So, with 2:57 left in the first half, McKinnon begrudgingly put her into the game.
Saygo didn’t score and she only pulled down one rebound. But her presence on the floor and tenacity on defense sparked a 10-0 run and No. 11 Ellison got the redemption it wanted over the Lady Knights, pulling away for a 60-49 win in the District 8-5A opener for both schools.
“It was hard (playing sick),” Saygo said. “But, I love my team and we want to win district, so if I got to get out there with the flu and play then that is what I am going to do — especially against Heights.
“Last year,” she added shaking her head. “We had to get redemption, so that is what we did tonight.”
Harker Heights, which beat Ellison twice by an average of 14 points en route to a district title last season, sped out of the gate fast on the Lady Eagles.
Pushing the ball at every opportunity, JaQuan Jackson, who led all players with 25 points, scored 11 of Heights’ first 18 points.
The barrage put the Lady Knights up 18-10 and Heights sophomore Alexus Dukes, who finished with 12 points, drove the lane for a pair of baskets to keep them in front 24-18 with 4:44 left in the second quarter.
But then Saygo entered the game and Ellison (16-2, 3-0 District 8-5A) got in rhythm.
Kaitlyn Shearer got a steal and a fast-break layup, Chris Jones, who finished with 11 points, hit a runner in the lane and Jordanna Porter converted a 3-point play.
And just like that, Ellison, which outrebounded Harker Heights 38-26, took the lead 28-24.
“It means a lot (to beat Heights),” said Ellison senior Deja Pointer, who had a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. “We really wanted it and we were just amped to go out there and play.”
In the third quarter, Porter and Pointer extended the Ellison lead to 41-32, both draining 3-pointers.
“That was the plan,” McKinnon said. “If they got tired, we were going to have to start crashing the boards and I was able to switch some players without losing momentum.”
Heights (6-8, 1-2) made a run again to start the fourth.
Angela Delaney banked in a 3-pointer and Jackson hit her last two shots of the game, to cut into the Ellison lead, 49-45.
However, Saygo returned to the game again. Then Brianna Gray got a steal off a rebound and converted a three-point play to push it back to seven. Gray then hit a runner and Porter, who led Ellison with 14 points, got a putback to extend the lead to 57-45 and all but put the game away with 2:30 remaining.
“Saygo was sick for a couple of days and ... I knew her leadership on the court was something we needed,” McKinnon said. “She is one of the toughest kids I have ever had the privilege of coaching. For her to come out and do what she did because she loves this team is pretty awesome.”