Ellison’s Aujunnae Smith has been waiting for her opportunity to finally beat Killeen.
Tuesday night at home, Smith was an integral piece for seventh-ranked Ellison with 11 points and five rebounds in a hard-fought 46-34 victory over the Lady Kangaroos, ranked ninth in the Texas Girls Coaches Association poll.
“It felt good,” the 6-foot junior said. “It was a game I really wanted to play big and step up in. I didn’t get to play in this game my freshman year because I got injured, and we lost to them my sophomore year.
“My junior year, we wanted to go get a win.”
The victory solidified Ellison (21-4, 6-0 District 8-6A) in the No. 1 spot in the league, while Killeen (17-9, 5-1) remained a close second.
A field goal by the Lady Kangaroos’ Manesha Knox on the right block gave Killeen a quick 2-0 lead to start the game. But the Lady Eagles replied with a 9-0 run to go up seven with 3 minutes, 34 seconds left in the first quarter.
Smith, Madison Hattix-Covington, La’Praisjah Johnson and Gemma Alhambra each scored for Ellison during the spurt, and the Lady Eagles never trailed again.
But the Lady Kangaroos kept it close. They answered with an 11-7 spurt that bridged into the second period to pull within 16-13 with 6:48 remaining in the first half.
Alexus Scharkley sparked the rally with a 3-pointer from the right corner, the only successful trey by either team the entire game, and Meleanna Williams capped it off with two free throws.
The two teams then went back and forth until the 3-minute mark in the fourth stanza. Leading 37-31, Ellison received a jumper from the left elbow by Smith and proceeded to go 7 of 10 from the free-throw line down the stretch to pull away and win by 12.
Hattix-Covington said she and all of the Lady Eagles were a little nervous when the game started, but they settled in.
“I feel like we all started playing together and playing better — especially on defense,” the 6-foot senior guard said. “We picked up our intensity. It’s easier off of steals to score, so letting our defense feed the momentum of our offense is definitely a big thing.”
Ellison forced 17 turnovers overall, including seven in the first quarter alone.
Killeen’s Shianne Johnson was held scoreless for the ballgame, as she was in foul trouble from the onset and fouled out with 4:34 left in the fourth period on a charge call.
But Lady Kangaroos head coach Jennifer Graham felt the team could have gotten off to a better start and set itself up in a better position late.
“I just don’t feel like we came out and executed like we were supposed to,” Graham said. “I feel we can do better, and the girls feel we can do better. We have to move forward from this.”
Overall, it took a collective effort for the Lady Eagles to earn the win, and head coach Sherry McKinnon said receiving strong performances out of key role players in Smith, as well as Feliziana Davis and Marliah Johnson, was huge.
“That’s what we want,” McKinnon said, “but that’s what I expect of them. They were just more settled, and that’s huge. That’s where confidence comes from.”
Hattix-Covington paced the Lady Eagles with 11 points, six rebounds and one assist, and Davis tallied eight points and three rebounds.
The win wasn’t pretty in McKinnon's opinion, but it was a win after all.
“I haven’t had to say this often — it was ugly,” McKinnon said. “But I’ll take an ugly win because there’s never a good loss. It was ugly, but there was relief.”
Knox led Killeen with 10 points and eight rebounds, while Cierra Penn had nine points, one rebound and one assist. Jacen Moore recorded six points, 15 rebounds and an assist.
Ellison is scheduled to hit the road and face Belton on Friday at 6:30 p.m., and the Lady Kangaroos will host Copperas Cove Friday at 7.