By Mike Phillips
Corsicana Daily Sun
She had to think for a minute then it was a slam-dunk conclusion.
“Yes it is,’’ said Kerens senior Marqueshia Kelly, who had just helped her team beat Hubbard 63-47 Tuesday night in the Kerens gym. “It is a rivalry. It’s definitely a rivalry.’’
It may not be as old as dirt or as bitter as lemons, but this dance between the Hubbard girls and the Kerens girls on the basketball court is shaping up to be a little better every time they play.
Folks say it can’t be a rivalry until both teams win, and the Kerens kids have owned the district basketball race and this part of Texas for years, so technically it may not fall under the rivalry category.
Just don’t tell the players.
“It’s a rivalry because of the way they talk on the court,’’ Kelly said. “I knew they were going to bring it, and we had to bring it tonight. We had to be ready. We had to be more ready tonight.’’
Hubbard, which is ranked No. 5 in the Texas Girls Coaches Association state poll, now has two losses this season, and both are to Kerens. The 17-2 Lady Jaguars were upset after losing to Kerens in the Kiwanis Tournament, and Hubbard coach Kendall Cotten pointed out correctly that the real games would be in January when the teams met in the District 18-1A D-I race.
He was right and the Kerens, ranked No. 10 in the same poll, took care of the first of two district games Tuesday, winning Round 2 of what will at least be three games between the two state powers.
“I think the difference was our conditioning. I think we’re in better shape,’’ said Kerens coach Denise Lincoln, whose team built on a 25-22 halftime lead to win going away. “And we have the experience. We play big schools and we have been in a lot of big games.
“They (Hubbard) play hard,’’ she said. “He (Cotten) has done a great job there. He’s taken them to another level. We needed it. We need tough games in our district. When you walk through district, you’re not ready for the playoffs, and this was a real good game.’’
Lincoln said she knew her team would have to travel to Hubbard (on Jan. 31) and expects another dogfight later this month.
But Kerens hasn’t lost a district game in more than three years and the LadyCats know what it means to keep that streak alive.
“I think we have heart,’’ Lincoln said. “I think we wanted it more. I’m not saying they (Hubbard) didn’t want it. I’m just saying I think we wanted it more.’’
They had to earn it.
“It was an intense game,’’ said Kerens junior Breanna Baxter, who led everyone with 25 points, including 16 in the second half when Kerens took over after leading 25-22 at halftime. Baxter also pulled down 13 rebounds and had five steals. “The second half is our half. We knew we had to take it to another step, another level.’’
Baxter and Kelley combined for 42 points and 26 rebounds as Kelly dropped in 17 points, including a 3-pointer, and had 13 rebounds. Kelly had amazing game on defense, blocking eight shots. Tinesha Tolliver came off the bench and gave Kerens a solid inside game, scoring five points and grabbing four rebounds.
Hubbard came out strong and led 10-9 before Kerens ended the first quarter with a pair of fast breaks from Baxter and Cambree Betts, who finished with eight points. But Nakaila Banks, who led Hubbard with 15 points, opened the second with a 3 to knot things at 13-13, and the two teams fought through 13-13, 15-15 and 17-17 ties before Kerens went on a 7-0 run before eventually taking a 25-22 lead into halftime.
Banks sat out almost the entire third with foul trouble and Kerens (16-4, and 4-0 in the District 18-1A race) built the lead to 44-28 in the third on back-to-back drives by Taylor Ames, who finished with eight points. But Hubbard’s Tia Parks hit an outside shot with a minute left and Kate Saucke hit a 10-footer just before the buzzer to close to 44-32.
Banks opened the fourth with a 3 and Hubbard closed to within seven in the fourth, before Kerens pulled away. Tia Parks finished with eight points, Saucke finished with five and Jasmine Parks had a big game inside for Hubbard with eight points and 13 rebounds.
“When we cut it to seven in the fourth I was thinking, “This is going to be our night,’’ Cotten said after the game. “Then just as I was saying that we threw the ball away.’’
Cotten said he was frustrated.
“Our girls played hard. We just missed too many easy lay-ups. We missed too many shots,’’ he said. “You can’t miss easy lay-ups against a great basketball team.’’