By Mike Phillips
Special to the Daily Sun
“Unfinished business,” it’s more than words or a phrase, far more than a slogan or motto or team chant.
It’s who and what these incredible Kerens LadyCats are, these kids who have marched their way to Austin for a chance to win the girls Class 1A DI state title. They have wrapped the words around them like a blanket and felt them with every heartbeat on this journey, this heartfelt journey that was born with tears and built with passion and character, blossoming into the roadtrip of a lifetime — a trip through Texas, where they have hit the court like a Green Wave, smothering teams with an unrelenting defense and an unselfish style of play, where humility mingles with power and everyone has shared the spotlight.
And the brighter the light gets, the more these Kerens kids shine.
Taylor Ames, Marqueshia Kelly, Cambree Betts, Breanna Baxter and Kiara Lindsey have all had game-changing moments during the run, and Tinesha Tolliver and Emmanuella Armant have come off the bench to put their individual stamp on this joyride through the playoffs.
“I couldn’t ask any better of them,’’ Kerens Coach Denise Lincoln said. “Every time we need a play someone steps up to make it. They are playing at a different level now.’’
That Green Wave defense that has forced more than 100 turnovers in four games is really more like a Dream Wave for these young ladies, who had their hearts broken two years ago in Austin when Martin’s Mill beat them in the semis. They carried that loss with them for two years, and lost the chance to get back at Martin’s Mill last year when Slocum ended the run in a brutal double-overtime loss in the playoffs.
Both of those teams were on the “unfinished business’’ hit list, and the LadyCats took care of business last week, beating Slocum and Martin’s Mill, the defending state champ and top-ranked 1A team in Texas (Kerens won by a combined 25 points and also beat Tenaha 85-38). There was a third team on the list, but that team didn’t make it to Austin. Instead, they meet a very talented Weimar team that has won 33 games at 10 a.m. Thursday in the semifinals.
“They’re on the list,’’ Baxter said. “Even though we haven’t played them, they’re on the list because they stand between us and what we want. We’re going to Austin for one thing. We want a ring.’’
Redemption Road has brought them here. Ames, Kelly and Betts were starters two years ago as sophomores, and Baxter started as a freshman. They walked into the Frank Erwin Center in awe, and left in tears.
“It was the first time for us and they walked up that tunnel and into the gym their eyes were like this,’’ said Lincoln, emphasizing that wide-eyed deer-in-headlights look.
It’s different now. They will walk onto that same court like they own it. That’s how these kids feel about this mission, this unfinished business that won’t be finished until they win the first state title for Kerens.
“Reality just hits you and you know this is going to be the end,’’ Ames said. “It’s time for everyone to step up. It’s all about heart. We have the heart and we’re taking that heart to Austin with us.’’
Kelly said, “We just want it more. I think we’re a pretty humble team and we just want it badder than anyone else.’’
The seniors have already made an indelible run. They’re 111-27 at Kerens.
“We knew they were something special when they were freshmen,’’ Lincoln said. “They hadn’t lost a game in junior high, and they just love the game. They love to play basketball.’’
The LadyCats (28-4) will take a 19-game winning streak to Austin. They haven’t lost since Dec. 17 in a game Kelly said, “I think a JV team played that game. That wasn’t us.’’
No, it wasn’t. This team has redefined itself, rising time and time again to a new life —rising to finish the dream, to finish the ride of a lifetime.
To take care of unfinished business.