By Mike Phillips
Corsicana Daily Sun
AUSTIN — Shhhhhhhhh
You hear that?
It’s the sound of resolve, the sound of bite and grit and desire — and the sound of silence has never been sweeter at Kerens, where the LadyCats pulled out their magic marker and added one more check to a checklist that has driven this team to the very edge of a state championship they have been dreaming of for years.
That’s where these LadyCats are today after destroying Weimar 56-36 in the Class 1A DI state semifinal game at the Frank Erwin Center at the University of Texas in Austin.
They face Plains (29-3) at 8:30 a.m. Saturday back at the Erwin Center, where they took everything away from Weimar’s Wildcats, who played catch-up all day to a team they had no chance of catching.
So just how did the Kerens kids celebrate? Did they dance, leap for joy, sing to the heavens or float off the court on a rush of air 10 feet off the ground?
Nope, not these kids.
“No one celebrated,’’ Coach Denise Lincoln said. “It was quiet in the locker room. We have unfinished business. These girls aren’t happy. They want to win it (Saturday). It’s unfinished business, and we’re not finished yet.’’
It looked and felt that way Thursday as Kerens seemed in a hurry to run by Weimar to get to the title game. The LadyCats ran and ran and ran. And on a day when the shots weren’t falling, the LadyCats just kept coming in a green wave of defense that smothered any chance Weimar might have had.
“I always thought we had them,” said Lincoln, who watched her team take an 11-6 lead after one quarter and a 23-14 lead to halftime after shooting just 33 percent and going 0-for-8 on 3-pointers. “I thought our defense was good enough. To be honest I just felt like we needed to keep shooting and the shots would fall.’’
They did and when the ball started hitting the bottom of the net an avalanche fell on Weimar. Taylor Ames hit the first shot of the second half, drilling a 3 to start the run to the title game. Marqueshia Kelly went inside and then Ames busted another 3. Breanna Baxter went inside, Ames added a free throw, Cambree Betts hit a drive and Tinesha Tolliver bagged a 10-footer and suddenly it was a 38-18 game.
And when the shots starting falling, no one let up on defense. Open looks for Weimar were as scarce as Aggies in Austin. The Wildcats didn’t get a shot off in the third (not a made shot but a shot off the floor) until Brianna Rhodes hit a drive with 5:34 left. They scored just six points in the quarter. Ames outscored them, 7-6.
“It was defense first,’’ said Ames, a four-year starter who led the way with 21 points. “With us there’s no mercy. We can’t stop. We won’t stop. We play hard the whole game. I play the hardest I can and my teammates play their hardest. We wanted this game, but we’re not happy. We want to win it all.’’
That’s why it was so quiet in the locker room. That sound of silence echoes Kerens’ “Unfinished Business” mantra that these kids have carried with them like a torch that burns from within on a road to retribution through the playoffs. They had their hearts broken in Austin two years ago and left in tears, and a brutal double overtime loss knocked them out in the regionals a year ago.
They came back this season with a cause and vowed to take care of what was left behind — to finish the journey they started long ago, to take care of “unfinished business.’’
They won’t celebrate until then.
“It was so quiet in the locker room you could hear a pin drop,” senior and four-year starter Kelly said. “You could hear a pin drop, not a tear drop. The tears will come after we win it on Saturday.’’
The seniors have won 112 games at Kerens, and the LadyCats (29-4) won their 21st in a row on Thursday. But nothing means as much as Saturday, the final chapter.
“We want to finish the story,’’ Kelly said.
Their focus is as unrelenting as their defense, which took control of the ball, the game and the last leg to the title game. Kerens forced 37 turnovers and kept coming in waves at Weimar (33-5), which had lost only to Class 3A and Class 5A teams this year and had won 14 in a row.
“They were very quick and it took us a while to try to catch up to the speed of the game,’’ Weimar Coach Roger Maupin said. “They were very aggressive and that got to us.’’
Don’t feel alone. In the past four games — the stretch run in the playoffs — Kerens has forced 138 turnovers. It starts up front with the passion of Kiara Lindsey, who doesn’t score much but makes life miserable for the opposing guards, and it ends with one steal or forced mistake after another. Kerens had 20 steals against a disciplined team that knows how to handle the ball. The Wildcats just couldn’t handle Kerens.
Betts had nine points and six steals and Baxter dropped in 10 points, grabbed eight boards and had five steals. Kelly had another monster game on defense, blocking four shots, scoring eight points and bringing down a game-high 11 rebounds. Emmanuella Armant came off the bench and scored four points early when neither team could find the basket to lift Kerens to a 9-5 lead they never surrendered, and Tolliver was solid again off the bench.
That’s Kerens’ secret. These kids are humble, hungry and unselfish.
“They don’t have a go-to-player,” Maupin said. “Most of the teams we play have a go-to-player but they are a very balanced team. Their balance is what helped them (beat us).’’
Now they’re all going to the title game.
In the end it was the same recipe, that old-fashioned grit and hard work ethic that Betts likes to talk about. She said the other day in practice that, “Hard work beats talent that doesn’t work hard.’’
Betts, who is as tenacious as any player on a team of tenacious die-hard, go-hard players, doesn’t say much, but she’s the one who calls the defense the “Clang! Clang! Lockdown” defense, and after it was over Thursday, after that next-to-last-step had been taken, she said what everyone at Kerens believes.
“We won that game,” Betts said. “But we’re not done yet.’’
Then there was silence …