By Mike Phillips
Corsicana Daily Sun
It was raining little blue basketballs all over the Corsicana High gym late Friday night.
The balls, which were giveaways during the game, came flying out of the stands onto the court as fans, friends and players from Corsicana celebrated, leaping and embracing each other and the moment.
The Tigers, who had been picked to finish fifth in the District 16-4A race, had just hung on to beat district favorite and powerhouse Whitehouse 62-58 in overtime in the district opener.
“It does feel good,’’ said CHS Coach Don Newton afterward. “It really didn’t hit me until I went into that locker room and saw the kids teared-up. They were so happy for each other.’’
It was that kind of night for the Tigers, who simply ignored all the pre-district predictions and went to work.
It was guard Ralph Watts who said on Thursday that he felt confident about beating Whitehouse, adding his own version of the “they put their pants on one leg at a time,’’ cliché with this pregame statement: “They put their shoes on just like us,’’ Watts said.
Then he went out and burned the nets down, scoring a career-high 28 points to ignite the Tigers (13-7, 1-0) all night.
“I couldn’t wait for this game,’’ Watts said afterward. “I had a great feeling we were going to win. We play for each other and we play with heart. We wanted it more. I promise we will play harder than any team in our district.’’
Whitehouse Coach Brent Kelly noticed.
“They out-played us. They out-coached us. We didn’t deserve to win this game,’’ Kelly said.
Corsicana led almost the entire game and was up 28-21 at halftime and 42-35 going into the fourth, but the Wildcats (16-5, 0-1) closed the gap to a single point in the fourth (43-42, 48-47 and 50-49).
But Corsicana had an answer and Watts had five of the Tigers’ first eight points and a slick assist to Danair Martin, who hit an inside shot to make it a 50-47 game before Jake Parker answered for Whitehouse to close to 50-49.
Jamal Evans hit two free throws to make it 52-49 with 1:37 left, but Parker hit a 3-pointer with 1:21 left to knot things at 52-52 and it stayed that way as the teams headed to OT.
It was still tied at 56-56 when Watts hit a baseline drive with 1:40 left in OT and Chris Beachem followed that play with a steal and a coast-to-coast drive. He never reached the basket but Whitehouse was called for an intentional foul with 1:29 left and Watts hit both free throws to push the lead to 60-56. Pat Mahomes, who led Whitehouse with 17 points, hit a put-back but that’s all the Wildcats had left as they went scoreless from the floor, missing their final three shots of the game. The Tigers, who made 20 of 23 free throws, added two free throws in the final seconds to seal the win.
“We made 20 of 23 free trows,’’ Newton said. “That’s never happened before in the history of the school. I’ll bet that’s a school record.’’
But it was more than free throws. It was the way Corsicana’s kids handled the pressure, especially after Whitehouse came back to send the game into overtime.
“When the game was on the line our kids kept their mouths shut and kept fighting,’’ Newton said. “The momentum could have changed there (at the end of regulation) and gone the other way. But our kids kept fighting. These kids have always shown tremendous heart and grit.’’
Evans finished with 11 points and Martin dropped in 10 while Mike Lewis (6) and Beachem (5) hit some key shots as well.
The Tigers just kept coming.
Watts said he could see the look in the eyes of the Whitehouse players.
“You could see it. They didn’t expect this. They didn’t expect us to win. Nobody did,’’ Watts said.
Watts did, and so did the rest of Newton’s team that just missed the playoffs last year. They couldn’t have asked for a better start in 2014.
“It’s big,’’ Watts said. “This will send a message to teams that we’re not just a team that’s going to roll over. We’re going to grind it out and fight the whole game.’’
Corsicana’s Lady Tigers 39, Whitehouse 32
The goal was to win 20 games and reach the playoffs and after just three district games the Lady Tigers are making that dream look more and more like a reality.
Their win over Whitehouse Friday gives them a 3-0 record in the District 16-4A race and they’re 17-6 for the season.
Not bad for a program that hadn’t won much in the pat 20 years.
“This is what I came here for,” said Coach Art Prevost after the win. “I’m happy and proud of the kids, but this is unchartered water, and we have to stay hungry. When you haven’t been there you have to stay hungry and not let it (3-0) change you. We have to play like we’re the underdogs and play with a chip on our shoulder — a chip that tells us we should be better.”
Prevost has the program on the rise and several players came up big Friday. Alexis Baston led the way with 14 points and Kennady Betts added eight while Briana Biltz dropped in six while Destini Lunsford scored five and Erica Melendez, who scored one point, led the team with seven rebounds.