By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
WACO - Ellison coach Sherry McKinnon had no doubt about it - the Lady Eagles were caught looking ahead.
With an approaching District 12-5A matchup against unbeaten Harker Heights set for Tuesday, and the potential of the two rivals meeting today in the tournament semifinals, the Lady Eagles missed what was right in front of them - Erin Sims and 3A No. 10 Lorena.
"They're kids, so probably so," McKinnon said after a 48-45 loss Wednesday evening in the quarterfinals of the 51st annual M.T. Rice Tournament at Midway High School. "There's excitement and anticipation of playing Heights, but when you overlook people, anything can happen."
That anything was three quarters of being outhustled and outworked up and down the court by the Lady Leopards, who led 23-7 two minutes into the second quarter and held off a fourth-quarter rally by the late-to-the-party Lady Eagles.
"I'm just really upset and disappointed - it's the story of our life (this season)," McKinnon said. "We play real hard in the fourth quarter, (but only after) we dig a big hole in the first. … That's not going to get it done."
Missing their first five field goal attempts before a layup by senior post Alayshia Hunter 3½ minutes into the first quarter, the Lady Eagles (14-6) watched as Lorena jumped out to a 9-0 lead and never relented.
"They just had the upper hand from the first quarter," said Hunter, who pulled down a team-high 11 rebounds and scored six points despite admittedly being beaten at times by the 5-foot-11 Sims.
Even reportedly playing with a sore back, Sims controlled the boards and limited the usually strong rebounding Ellison to only a handful of second-chance opportunities, pulling down a true double-double with 14 points and 14 boards - 11 coming on the defensive end.
The Lady Eagles pulled it to within 13-7 with a minute to play in the opening frame, but Lorena took off on a 10-0 run as Ellison missed its first six shots in the second quarter.
"It was their movement - that's something we have to work on I think as a team," Hunter said. "They kept moving, with screens, everything. Even if they had somebody standing still, everybody else was moving. And I think they had us on."
The bleeding stopped when junior guard Deja Pointer banked in a long 3-pointer with 4:35 to play in the first half and the Lady Eagles converted on their next six possessions to cut the lead to within 27-22 with 55 seconds left.
It was Pointer's third 3 of the game that made it 43-40 with 3:08 to play in the fourth quarter and then fellow junior Kanesha Saygo (11 points) was fouled on a hard layup and added the and-one free throw to pull within 46-45 with 55 seconds left.
But Sims came through again with her 11th defensive board on a missed 3-pointer by Ocleta Young (13 points) with less than 10 seconds left to seal Ellison's fate.
Earlier in the day, the Lady Eagles rocked Magnolia West 65-21, courtesy of 16 points from Hunter and 14 from Saygo. Jumping ahead 20-7 after the first quarter, Ellison never let up, outscoring West by a score of 17-4 in both the second and third quarters to lead 54-15 entering the fourth.
Lady Knights cruise into semis - From the opening tip, No. 8-ranked Harker Heights was in control, even when it may have appeared otherwise.
Led by a balanced five-pronged offensive attack, the Lady Knights (21-0) jumped ahead early and even shook off a surprise push by Wylie to sweep their way to the tournament semifinals today, where they'll face 3A No. 10 Lorena at 2 p.m.
"It was teamwork. Our motto is 'Make it difficult by everyone doing what they're supposed to do,' and they did a good job of that," Heights coach Shirretha Nelson said. "That's our goal, to have everybody on the books every single game, every opportunity we get."
Lady Knights 6-foot junior post Freeman led the way with a combined 28 points, including a team-high 18 despite not playing much of the second half of a 66-24 rout of Red Oak. But Freeman was one of three players with 10 points to go along with 10 rebounds as Heights pulled away late in a 52-41 win over Wylie on Wednesday.
Fellow post Eboniey Jeter added 19 combined points, including nine against the Lady Pirates, while Brianna Golden and JaQuan Jackson each had 10.
"To me, we don't have a star player - we're all role players and we all do our part to get things done," Jeter said.
Copperas Cove 51, Waco Connally 27 - Jasmin Johnson hit four 3-pointers and scored 14 points and the Lady Dawgs defense held Connally to just 12 points in the first three quarters to win their first-round game at the M.T. Rice Tournament.
Cove (13-7) outscored the Cadets 15-2 in the first quarter, led 29-11 at halftime and then allowed just a single point in the third.
Sarai Rodriquez hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored 12 points and Carlie Tuiasosopo added eight for the Lady Dawgs, who play Cedar Park this morning at 11.
Ellison 66, Lorena 61 - A balanced effort from both sides, with four scorers reaching double figures from both benches, it was the Eagles' own dynamic duo of Ojai Black and Malik Hawkins that made the difference.
Hawkins hit four 3-pointers as he and Black scored a game-high 15 points apiece as Ellison (10-7) pulled ahead in the second before holding off a late fourth quarter rally by the Leopards to advance to the tournament semifinals against 3A No. 10 and unbeaten La Vega at 12:30 p.m. today.
Joining Black and Hawkins (who had four 3-pointers) in double figures were Thomas Larry and James Jessie, who scored 13 and 11 points, respectively.
3A No. 10 La Vega 56, Harker Heights 49 - Despite holding a scant 31-30 lead at halftime, the Knights couldn't hold off unbeaten La Vega as the Runnin' Pirates ransacked Harker Heights 13-5 in the third quarter Wednesday morning.
La Vega's 6-foot-5 post William Stinnett led all scorers with 23 points while the Pirates' other 6-5 post, Michael Starts, added 10 to push around the guard-heavy Knights, who were led by Thomas Cherry and C.J. Rodriguez with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Heights (11-6) plays Lewisville in a consolation semifinal at 11 a.m. today.