Connally guard Miannah Little (left) and the Lady Cadets still have a shot at the playoffs if they can win their final two games of the season.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte

Officially, the UIL state playoffs won’t commence for basketball teams for more than a week. The girls’ postseason tips off on Feb. 12, while the boys’ playoffs will start a week later, on Feb. 19.

Yet for a bevy of Central Texas teams, it’s almost like the playoffs have already begun. That’s because the fight for an invitation into that big dance will come down to the very last game for some teams.

With two regular-season games left in the girls’ season and four for the boys, some Centex districts are more jumbled than a book of word teasers. Take, for instance, District 19-3A on the boys’ side. McGregor, Whitney and Groesbeck are locked in a three-way tie for first place in the district with 7-3 records. Beyond them, four more teams – Clifton (5-5), Marlin (5-5), West (4-6) and Troy (3-7) – are within two games of one another.

It should make for a rather intense batch of games the next couple of Fridays and Tuesdays.

“On any given night in this district, anybody can beat anybody,” McGregor coach Jason Taylor said. “You look at Clifton, and they were 2-5 the first half of district and now they’ve won three in a row. … There’s a lot of competition, and no real dominant team.”

It could come down to a Whitney vs. Groesbeck battle for the district title in the season finale on Feb. 13 in Groesbeck. Of course, McGregor will have something to say about that as well. The Bulldogs swept the season series from both the Wildcats and Goats, but they’ve still got to play two of the teams – Marlin and West – that handed them a loss the first time around.

“Our play has gone up from having to be ready every single night, that’s for sure,” Taylor said.

When Connally and La Vega face off, it always makes for an intense rivalry, no matter the sport. But Tuesday’s upcoming Connally-La Vega girls game could be even wilder than ever, if the possibility of a playoff spot hangs in the balance.

“It’s nerve-wracking, but it’s fun” Connally coach Taylor Sims said.

The Lady Cadets currently sit at 20-12 overall and 4-6 in District 17-4A. They’ll play Robinson on Friday for a chance to try to get to 5-6. La Vega is 15-14 overall and 6-5 in the district, and has a bye on Friday. Since Connally defeated La Vega, 42-41, in the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 12, Tuesday’s game between the Lady Pirates and Lady Cadets could be a winner-take-all matchup for the district’s final playoff spot if Connally beats Robinson on Friday.

“I think any time you have a chance to make the playoffs it’s a big deal,” said Sims, whose team has lost four district games by four points or fewer. “You never want to see your season end early. It’s important that we do go out and beat Robinson, who we have the utmost respect for, and give ourselves a chance at the playoffs against La Vega.

“It’s such a great rivalry. Last time we played them, it was standing room-only, and I can only imagine what it would be like if the playoffs are on the line.”

While Connally and La Vega scratch it out for the district’s fourth spot, the league’s top three teams have already wrapped up postseason berths in China Spring (8-2), Lorena (8-2) and Gatesville (8-3). But the 17-4A title – and that corresponding , all-important playoff seeding – remains up for grabs for those three teams.

China Spring will travel to Hillsboro on Friday and host Lorena on Tuesday in a potential district title duel. Gatesville, which closes the regular season on Friday against Lorena, is still in the running for a share of the district title if the Hornets could defeat the Lady Leopards and have China Spring fall to Lorena on Tuesday.

It’s little wonder why Lorena coach Rodney Gee has described the perpetually-competitive 17-4A as the “Big 12 of high school girls basketball.”

Plenty of other playoff spots and district titles will be on the line over the next week. In District 18-5A boys basketball, Waco High holds a slim one-game lead over College Station for the fourth and final playoff spot. The District 17-2A boys race features a logjam after the top two teams — Bosqueville (9-1) and Moody (7-3) — as Crawford, Rosebud-Lott and Valley Mills are tied for third at 6-4, with Chilton just a game behind at 5-5.

On the girls’ side, Midway (29-4, 10-2) still has an outside shot at the District 8-6A crown. The Pantherettes need to take care of business against their final two opponents, Shoemaker on Friday and San Angelo Central on Tuesday, and hope that Ellison (21-8, 11-8) loses one or both of its final two games against Killeen and Belton. Midway and Ellison split their season series, each winning on their own home court.

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