Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Sports

February 6, 2014

CHS Basketball: Lady Tigers cap off turnaround season with first playoff berth since 1991

CHS Basketball: Lady Tigers cap off turnaround season with playoff berth

Corsicana — They dug up the treasure chest on Wednesday.

In the cold chill with the wind blowing and temperatures dropping in the 20s, the kids who play on the girls basketball team at Corsicana High and their coach went treasure hunting and found what they were looking for — right there in Coach Art Prevost’s back yard.

That’s where they buried a Cool Whip container (that was the treasure chest) before the season started. They wrote down their goals, put the slips of paper in the Cool Whip container and buried it.

“We dug it up Wednesday,’’ said Prevost, who is looking more like a magician than a pirate these days after lifting his program beyond anyone’s expectations. “We dug up our treasure chest and we stood together in the cold and read those goals.’’

They made it —Cool Whip container and all — to just where they wanted to be.

Those goals of 20 wins and a playoff berth might have sounded strange to anyone who had followed the girls basketball program, but it was the Lady Tigers who were laughing on Wednesday, the day after they won their 21st game of the year and finished tied for second in the District 16-4A race.

They open the playoffs Monday night against Seguin in the Ennis gym at 6:30.

They made it.

It’s the first time since 1991 that a CHS girls basketball team has been in the playoffs, going all the way back to the Ron Morgan teams of the early 1990s (yes, that Ron Morgan).

“This is a magical time,’’ Prevost said after practice on Thursday. “One of our goals was to make the playoffs. It’s been 23 years but we always believed we could do it. We’ve been the whooping team for a long time and it feels so good to be where we are.

“It feels so good to climb out of that hole and see the sky,’’ he said, beaming. “It is a beautiful scene. I’m excited about for the team, for the fans, for the town, for the school, for everyone.’’

And to make this impossible journey even more unbelievable, consider this: The Lady Tigers did all this without the team’s star player.

Calae Wilson, the first girl to sign a Division I basketball scholarship at Corsicana, suffered a serious leg injury in the fourth game of the season and has been out all year.

“We were sad at first when she got hurt,’’ said Destini Lunsford, a sophomore who is one of the keys to the team. “But we knew we had to step up. We knew what we had to do.’’

It was a group effort, and that’s how Corsicana won — as a group. No one has a 20-point average, but four girls are averaging 8.5 points or more a night.

“We knew we had to step up and be strong for her,’’ said Alexis Baston, referring to Wilson.

“When she got hurt it just made us work that much harder,’’ said Kennady Betts, who is averaging 8.5 points a game.

Lunsford and Baston are scoring 11 points a game and Erica Melendez is averaging nine points and eight rebounds a game.

Sha Sha Taylor doesn’t score much but there may not be a better one-on-one defensive guard anywhere. Taylor averages five steals a game and she can fly up and down the court.  Briana Biltz, an all-district and All-Golden Circle volleyball player comes off the bench and seems to always give Prevost valuable minutes and key rebounds when she is in the game, and she’s capable of putting up double figures. Ariel Bartee may be the best sixth man in this part of the state. She has come off the bench and had 20-point nights.

“We’re a team, a real team,’’ Prevost said. “If you try to hone in on one person that’s not going to work.’’

Bartee said the kids didn’t have to have a team meeting or talk about what they needed to do after Wilson’s injury. The kids knew — no one needed to say a word.

“We knew. We just all wanted to pull for each other to be better,’’ she said.

It wasn’t easy.

“It was about hard work and working hard as a team,’’ Taylor said. “We worked hard and pushed each other as a team, pushing and building that bond.’’

The work is obvious. Spend five minutes watching this team play and you know why they won 21 games. They play defense like their lives depend on it, running and swarming with an unrelenting passion for defense, which makes other teams miserable.

“That’s who we are,’’ Prevost said. “I knew from Day 1 that we were a defensive team. That’s who we have been all year, a team that can hold the other team under 40 points. We can defend and size doesn’t matter. We’re not the Seattle Seahawks, but we can play defense.’’

They’re 21-9 and all of their losses have been close, including five games by two points or less and a heartbreaker on a shot at the buzzer. Their defense keeps them in any game, and that’s one reason Prevost and his kids believe they can make a statement in the playoffs.

They’ve already made a huge one.

“It’s been a long time waiting — 23 years,’’ Prevost said. “Five years was a long time waiting.’’

That’s how long Prevost has been at CHS, where everyone told him it was going to take a long time to build a program. But Prevost was confident even before the first game of the season and that’s the way he will take his team into the playoffs.

“I’m really glad to see the excitement and the joy, especially from the people who came here when we were getting beaten by 40 points,’’ Prevost said. “It makes me proud. They didn’t leave. They stayed with us and we will have them Monday night. We’ve already got a fan bus ready to go to Ennis.’’

And you can bet the Crush Crew will be there, too.

The Lady Tigers have their own set of fans in a wacky student section at games. The Crush Crew wear T-shirts they say “Crush Crew” and show up in wigs, hats and just about anything else they can think of to add some spice to the games.

It was Prevost’s idea and the kids have not only jumped on the bandwagon, they have pounded it with an assortment of home-made noise makers.

It’s been that kind of year for the Lady Tigers, who have made history already and written their own legacy by turning the program around. Taylor is just a junior and Lunsford and Betts are sophomores so this team is not only talented but young.

By the way, after they dug up the Cool Whip container and read those preseason goals, the kids and Prevost wrote down some new goals for the postseason, and buried them.

Stay tuned ...

 

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