The scream echoed through the walls of the locker room and down the hall. It was a collective yell of jubilation, a response to some rather welcomed news.
What prompted that outburst? Midway girls basketball coach Ben Holder had just told his players that they could have a day off from practice.
Not a bad reward. Get a W, get a break. “That would be the cheer of a team that just got a day off, a well-earned day off,” Holder said.
The 19th-ranked Pantherettes earned that prize by hustling their way to a 64-46 win over No. 21 Copperas Cove on Friday night at the Midway High arena. The win was the second of the week over a ranked team for Midway (25-4 overall, 7-2 in District 8-6A), which pulled out a road win over No. 8 Ellison on Wednesday, and it keeps the Pantherettes in a first-place tie in the district with that Ellison team.
“I’m incredibly proud of where we’re at right now,” Holder said. “To be able to turn around from two losses that we had earlier in district (to Ellison and Cove) and to be able to give them losses in turn and give ourselves a chance to compete for a district title. Now we just need Ellison to take a loss, and we’re rooting for Copperas Cove and everybody else in our district certainly now.
“But it gives us a chance at least. Our competitiveness was where I wanted it to be today.”
Talk about playing with energy – Midway players produced four backward somersaults during the game after tumbling to the court following a loose-ball scramble, three from senior Ja’Naiya Davis and one by sophomore forward Reese Rhodes. That kind of lively spunk helped the Pantherettes put together the momentum-snatching spurts they needed to hold off the well-coached Lady Bulldawgs (17-7, 6-3).
Midway led just 12-9 in the first quarter after Cove’s Leah Powell found a hole in the Pantherettes’ defense and dropped in a layup. But the Pantherettes responded with a 7-2 run to close the quarter, highlighted by a offensive board and stickback from Michala Pullen-Monroe and a net-rustling 3-pointer from Davis.
Davis, Midway’s savvy senior point guard, supplied as much verve as anyone on the court. She consistently weaved her way through the Cove defense on her way to scoring a game-best 23 points.
“Ja’Naiya is obviously such a special player,” Holder said. “She’s been a four-year letterman for this program. I inherited her, had her the last two years. She’s amazing. That’s the word. She’s amazing. She does great things for us offensively, defensively. She’s a true captain of the team. She leads us in every facet of the game.”
Erica Powell’s inside presence and ability to draw fouls helped Cove keep the score close for a stretch of the first half. When Mariyah Reynolds bottomed out a 3-pointer for the Lady Bulldawgs midway through the second quarter, Cove trailed only 23-19.
Midway had the answer. Much like in the first quarter, the Pantherettes accelerated into high gear and closed the quarter on an 11-4 run. Reaghan Ridge offered a spark, poking away a steal and breakaway layup and then knocking down a corner trey on consecutive positions.
Midway isn’t a team of giants, as there is no 6-foot-4 banger like former Super Centex and University of Texas player Cokie Reed on the roster. But the Pantherettes still managed to consistently score in the paint, mostly by using what they are long on – speed and quickness.
“We have really, really fast guards, as you’ve seen,” Holder said. “We look to attack gaps any time and always. Obviously we would love if we had a little bit better inside game, but that’s just going to come, hopefully with some people coming up. But right now, this year, we just try to expose people. If there’s any kind of a gap they give us, we just like to drive gaps and get to the cup.”
Cove didn’t go quietly, as the Lady Bulldawgs continued to employ an inside-out offensive approach to try to trim into Midway’s lead. They cut the gap to 46-40 after a pair of Erica Powell free throws with 5:43 to play. However, Midway had one more spurt left – and it was a big one.
The Pantherettes ably handled Cove’s full-court pressure and outscored the Lady Bulldawgs 18-6 in the final five minutes of the game. Late in the game, Cove took to fouling to try to preserve some time, although Lady Bulldawgs coach Eldridge McAdams chuckled and said, “Not her!” when Cove fouled Davis at one point. Naturally, the senior banged in both free throws.
Caleyah Burrell attacked the hoop all night long and finished with 14 points for Midway, while Michala “KK” Pullen-Monroe chipped in nine points.
For Cove, Powell led the way with 13 while guard Madisen Honea added 10.
While Midway’s Holder was more than happy to give his team a bit of a breather from practice following a productive week on the court, he also made sure to hammer home a simple message in the locker room afterward.
That being – we can’t let up.
“I said, we just can’t get complacent,” Holder said. “We beat (next Tuesday’s opponent) Harker Heights the other day at our house, by a double-digit score, but they’re not that same team. I’ve watched them on film, seen what they’ve done against other district opponents.
“We will not take them lightly. That’s the message – we can’t take any team lightly. We control our own destiny to a certain extent, and we will control that destiny.”