China Spring coach Kristi Mize blamed herself for her team’s loss to Lorena in January.
She claimed her team wasn’t prepared for that contest, and she made sure to not make the same mistake in the rematch on the Lady Cougars’ home floor.
Whether it was preparation or execution that proved to be the difference, China Spring had everything go its way Tuesday from the opening tip. Alex Perkins scored 15 points, Gabrielle Cleveland added 14 and China Spring never trailed in a 49-28 win that clinched the outright District 17-4A championship.
“I think it’s such a tough district. Night in and night out, you just never know,” Mize said. “On paper you’re supposed to beat somebody, but then you get out there and it’s a dog fight. It’s one of the harder districts in Texas, and it’s amazing to be on top again.
“Once we got the girls from La Vega out of there (Juicy Landrum and Erin DeGrate), we all have a chance. It just depends on who’s up that year. I told the girls it’s our time. They believed it, and they went out and got it.”
The Lady Cougars (26-8, 10-2) will open the playoffs against Palestine. Mize said that game is tentatively set for Monday at Navarro College in Corsicana.
Perkins set the tone with a 3-pointer from the left corner on the Lady Cougars’ opening possession. They were patient on that opening trip and for the remainder of the first quarter and a half.
They were equally adept on the defensive end, where Lorena (23-11, 8-4) failed to score a field goal until 1:44 remained in the opening quarter and trailed 28-9 midway through the second quarter.
“It wasn’t a good start, but a lot of that credit goes to China Spring,” Lorena coach Rodney Gee said. “I thought they ran good offense. We’d guard really well most of the time. But their offense is really good, and they knocked down every open shot they had early in the game. That separated them, and we’re fighting an uphill battle after that.”
The patience, ball movement and execution the Lady Cougars displayed for the first 12 minutes abandoned them over the next four.
That allowed the Lady Leopards to go on an 8-0 run and draw within 30-17 at halftime, and Mize’s job at that point was to calm her team down.
“I told them this is ours,” Mize said. “We’re in the driver’s seat, and we’re acting like we’re behind. We’re playing like we’re behind. We’re ahead, so control it, keep control and be patient. Slow down.”
Neither team could solve the other’s defense consistently in the second half, but that worked to China Spring’s favor, since it had a lead to work with. Lorena’s best chance to get back into the game came early in the fourth when it had six free throw attempts within the first 3:08. But it made only two of those, part of an 8-for-20 night from the line, and never got closer than 12 in the second half.
“I thought we got good looks, and those shots have to go,” Gee said. “Then you get good looks at the free throw line, too, and we didn’t hit many free throws. You’ve got to (make more of them), keep that thing closer and make a run that way. I thought we got good shots and got to the free throw line, but we didn’t knock them down.”
Michelle Runyan and Corbin Parnell scored eight apiece to lead Lorena, which took the district’s No. 3 seed and will face either Mexia or Fairfield in the bi-district playoffs.