By Nick Talbot
Killeen Daily Herald
Alayshia Hunter barrel rolled across the ground as she low-fived her teammates during pre-game introductions.
The bench erupted with glee when forward Demarji Coley hit a 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter.
And Hunter and Ocleta Young capped off the post-game celebration, shaking pom-poms high above the court with the cheerleaders and then showed off for the crowd with a pair of toe-touches.
At least for one night, the fun was back at Ellison as the Lady Eagles defeated Shoemaker 61-46 to ensure themselves a spot in the playoffs Tuesday.
"(Tonight) was really important for me and Alayshia," Young said. "We went to the playoffs the last four years and it only felt right to make it this year."
Last season, the Lady Eagles (23-8, 8-6 12-5A) rode a wave of emotion as it won the District 12-5A title, won the most games in the history of the program and advanced to the regional semifinals.
This season, something never quite seemed right for Ellison as they struggled with early district losses to Copperas Cove, A&M Consolidated and Harker Heights.
With one game left and a playoff berth still in doubt, Ellison put all of that behind them.
"This year my shots have not been going in, but it felt good just to relax and have fun ... At first we couldn't get it into out posts and it was frustrating," said Young. "We only had 12 rebounds in the first half and that is a big no-no. So, after halftime we were like 'let's just have fun' and things started opening up and working for us."
Kiara Rawls, who led the Grey Wolves with 21 points, did her best in the first half to fend off the celebration.
The Shoemaker senior drained four 3-pointers in the first half as the Lady Grey Wolves kept it close.
Ellison had jumped to an early 18-11 lead thanks to pair of 3s from Young.
But Rawls drained two of her own to cut the lead to 20-18. Young hit her third 3 to bring push the lead back to 23-18, only to see Rawls answer again. This time the trey cut the Ellison lead to 25-24 as Shoemaker (16-18, 5-9) shaved what was once a seven-point lead down to one right before the half.
Ellison rolled in the third quarter. Hunter got an and-one in transition to put the Lady Eagles up 29-24. Young then drained 3 number four to again put Ellison up by seven as she kicked off a 12-2 run.
Kaitlyn Shearer got a putback to cap off the run as the Lady Eagles stretched their lead to 45-30. "We went to a man (defense) because Kiara was 4-of-5 from the 3-point line in the first half," said Ellison coach Sherry McKinnon. "Then we saw then start to get tired, so we applied some full-court pressure and I think that opened up some things."
Kanesha Saygo, who led Ellison with 14 points, carried the Lady Eagles in the fourth quarter.
Saygo, who had missed the last three games with a shoulder injury, drove for two baskets and then converted on 5-of-7 from the free-throw line.
"(My shoulder) doesn't feel too great, but I am happy to be back," Saygo said. "I just want to do what it can to help us get to the playoffs. It is still hurting, but I am smiling through the pain."