Emerging from the Shoemaker girls locker room with an obvious limp, Kiara Rawls was in clear pain following Monday's season-opener.
Bumping and banging her way to the hole, Rawls gutted out a game-high 28 points and eight steals as the host Lady Grey Wolves opened the 2011-12 campaign with a convincing 59-34 win over Kerrville Tivy. "Kiki's a leader for us and she's stepping up as a leader," Shoemaker head girls coach Shauna Showers said. "The girls really adjust to her and accept the things that she's telling them."
Showing a little rust from spending the last few months on a volleyball court, Rawls struggled with her outside shot, finishing just 1-of-6 from beyond the arc. Her only made 3-pointer was on her final attempt early in the fourth quarter.
But Rawls isn't a one-trick pony, instead turning her attention inside, forcing turnovers and converting fast-break opportunities to spark a relatively inexperienced Shoemaker squad with just four returners.
"If I'm not on shooting-wise, I'll go to the post, or if somebody's giving me the lane, I'm just going to drive," Rawls said.
Seeing her team struggle through the opening minutes, trailing Tivy 4-3 early, Rawls did just that, stealing the ball at midcourt and driving past a defender in the lane for a layup to retake the lead 5-4 with 5:25 to play in the first.
Shoemaker didn't trail again, thanks in part to an effective transition game off of turnovers.
"When she does that, I think all the girls buy into it and then everybody starts, 'Oh, hey, we can all do that,'" Showers said. "That's something about Kiki, I can just say, 'Hey, we need a steal' and she'll get the steal. It just seems like that sets things in motion for us."
After a fast-break bucket by Hailee Showers (16 points), the junior post picked the pocket of Lady Antlers guard Kendall McKenzie and immediately dished to Rawls, already sprinting down court for an easy two and a 9-4 advantage.
Both teams traded free throws before Rawls really got going, scoring 12 of Shoemaker's next 14 points during a 7½-minute spurt between the first and second quarters as the Lady Grey Wolves turned a 10-5 advantage into a 24-9 lead with 2:53 to play before halftime.
Tivy converted back-to-back free throw opportunities and scored six straight points to pull within 24-15, but Hailee Showers made amends for a pair of missed free throws by rebounding her own shank and putting it back for two as Shoemaker went into halftime ahead 26-15.
Showers' board play was key to a quick third-quarter start as she capitalized on a pair of offensive rebounds, the last of which doubled up Tivy 30-15 50 seconds out of halftime.
The Lady Antlers went score-for-score with Shoemaker for much of the third before Lady Grey Wolves center Cion Hicks hit a short jumper and Rawls converted a fast-break steal from Shardasha Patterson to enter the fourth quarter with a 44-25 lead.
But despite the convincing win, there was plenty of room for improvement, especially with regard to Shoemaker's own issues with sloppy turnovers, several of which came following forced turnovers on defense.
"One thing I think we need to work on is when you make that extra effort to get that steal, you've got to get control of it," coach Showers said. "And I think all that will come with (time)."