Ellison coach Sherry McKinnon looked around and saw her team wasn’t talking during Tuesday’s pre-game shootaround. It got her worried.
And rightfully so. The Lady Eagles started slow and couldn’t hit a free throw when it really mattered as they fell 54-50 to the 5A No. 2 Pflugerville Lady Panthers.
“They are not normally quiet. ... I think we were trying to be so focused today that we came out tight,” McKinnon said. “I don’t feel like the girls were scared, but they were wanting to win so bad they got out of their rhythm. This season we have been starting pretty fast — take away the first quarter and we might have won this ball game against a really good Pflugerville team.”
After the Lady Panthers’ initial 11-0 first-quarter run, Ellison (13-2) scored the next eight points, highlighted by a fast break off a steal by Kenesha Saygo.
But the Lady Eagles, who only shot 28 percent from the field, still couldn’t figure out the press of Pflugerville (16-0). Ellison turned the ball over 17 times in the first half — and 25 overall — against the Lady Panthers.
And after Saygo’s quick bucket, Pflugerville went on an 13-2 run to take control, 24-10.
“We came out real focused and when we come out and take care of the basketball we are pretty good,” Pflugerville coach Nancy Walling said. “Our philosophy all year long since we don’t have any size is to pressure the basketball and wear teams down, but Ellison did the same to us and it was kind of a chess match.
“We just got lucky at the end.”
Ellison sophomore Brianna Gray hit a 3-pointer with 7.8 seconds left in the first half to cut the Lady Panthers lead to 29-18. Deja Pointer, who struggled from the field early, hitting only 1 of her 10 shots, hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the final minute and half of the third quarter to cut the Pflugerville lead to single digits for the first time since Ellison’s initial 8-0 run.
And in the fourth quarter, Ellison, which only missed its first five 3-pointers, got another infusion from behind the arc, when sophomore post Jordanna Porter stepped out and cut the Lady Panthers lead to 46-38 with 5:56 left.
From there, the Ellison defense held Pflugerville without a field goal. The Lady Eagles forced Pflugerville into 23 turnovers and blocked five shots on the night. Saygo, who went out with an injury in the fourth quarter and also was in foul trouble for most of the game, led Ellison with four steals.
The defensive pressure, though, also sent the Lady Panthers to the free-throw line, where they hit 9-of-16 in the final frame.
Ellison, meanwhile, struggled even worse from the line. After Francesca Patrick was fouled on a 3-point shot, the junior only hit one of her three attempts. If she had hit all three Ellison, which finished a dismal 9-of-21 from the line, would have pulled within a point.
Patrick redeemed herself a minute later, though, when she banked in a 3 from NBA range with 12.4 seconds remaining. However, down 54-50, Ellison could not get off a final shot as time expired.
“You are not going to win very many ball games shooting 28 percent,” McKinnon said. “Pflugerville is a good team to play before we go into district because it shows we can compete with anybody.
“Everything that went wrong tonight is fixable.”