Harker Heights at Shoemaker Girls Basketball

Shoemaker's Charlene Shepherd (21) drives into the paint for a shot against Harker Heights on Feb. 7 at Shoemaker.

Shoemaker earned it.

The Lady Grey Wolves won three of their last four District 8-6A contests for the right to play Belton in a play-in game for the fourth seed at Copperas Cove on Friday, and they added their fourth win in their last five contests to reach the postseason.

Shoemaker (21-16) topped the Lady Tigers in a hard-fought 45-43 decision, and now it will play top-ranked Duncanville today in West at 6 p.m. in the bi-district round of the Class 6A playoffs.

“We came out playing hard against Belton,” Lady Grey Wolves head coach Michelle O’Neal said. “That’s what made the difference there — playing hard and knocking down our free throws when we got to the line. We were 100 percent from the free-throw line in the first half.

“In the second half, they turned it up and mashed the gas. I have a lot of respect for that team, because it was hard-fought and no one was giving the other anything. Each team had to work for everything they got.”

A lot of credit deserves to go to Shoemaker’s star-studded duo of Makayla Gatewood and Charlene Shepherd, but it takes much more than that to reach the postseason in 8-6A.

Senior point guard Kiara Johnson has been a stoic presence on the court, never wavering no matter the circumstances. Johnson never gets fazed whether the Lady Grey Wolves are riding high or aren’t playing well, and it is a trait that is invaluable to her head coach.

“She’s one of those kids you just have to have on the floor,” O’Neal said. “She’s getting defensive stops and is one of my best defenders as a guard. Down the stretch, she was the one that was getting those stops and maintaining our lead or getting the lead back for us.

“Not enough is said about that girl. She is low-key, doesn’t need the accolades, but she is just going to go out there and take care of business every night — no matter what.”

And O’Neal can always rely on Gatewood and Shepherd.

Gatewood has been a double-double machine this season, and the 5-foot- 9-inch post might not be the biggest and most imposing figure on the court, but she has basketball savvy.

“She knows the game and knows where to be,” O’Neal said. “She knows how to go get those rebounds. I call her my baby beast because she’s not big, but she goes in there and bangs with the big girls and gets the job done.

“She’s got a great attitude about it. She’s not a crybaby; she gets bumped and bruised all the time, but she goes in there and gets after it every night.”

Shepherd, at 6 feet tall, is a matchup nightmare on the perimeter. She also happens to be one of the most intense competitors on the floor.

“Charlene is just an all-around player that can do it all, basically,” O’Neal said. “She’s focused, she’s competitive and she does not like to lose. Losing is not going to happen as long as she’s on the floor.

“She’s going to try to get to the basket when she needs to, she’s going to knock down an open shot when she needs to, and she’s going to play defense on the other end. She’s one of those that you really want to build around.”

And then there are players who play their role at a high level, such as Zaiah Jackson, Kaleiyah Davis, Azihonna Cox, Emonei Chestnut, Ashten Jones, Taylor Askew and Emijah Spencer.

Duncanville is 32-2.

Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Previously spent time as sports editor at both the Hereford Brand and the Gatesville Messenger. Graduate of West Texas A&M University.

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