Everything is more in the playoffs. The fans are more rowdy, the competition is more difficult, the coaches are more intense and the cheerleaders even dab a little more. On Friday night the Teague Lions faced off with the Jarrell Cougars in the girls basketball Class 3A area playoffs for a game that provided a little more excitement than usual for everyone involved.
The game had what seemed like more lead changes than shots and was played physically from both sides. But the Lions executed a fourth quarter surge and trampled the Cougars, 75-65.
The Lady Lions got off to a blazing start but the Cougars started to find their shot and entered halftime with a four-point lead. Jarrell looked like they might start to pull away when they went on a 7-0 run about halfway through the third quarter. But Lions junior KaDaja Nickleberry and sophomore Destanee Roblow sunk back-to-back 3-pointers to get the Lions back into the game with a 47-44 lead.
Roblow was the star of the second half for the Lions. Moments after her go-ahead 3-point shot, she snatched consecutive rebounds. On the second rebound she fell to the floor, hit her head on the court and had to exit the game. She returned to the game at the end of the third quarter and sunk nine fourth-quarter points. Roblow ended the evening with 21 points 10 rebounds.
Teague coach Chris Nickleberry said Roblow rose to the occasion in the second half and her toughness inspired the rest of her teammates.
“She just rose up,” Nickleberry said. “We encourage our kids to rise up. So when she went out, all that did was fire our team up like ‘next man up let’s go!’”
Nickleberry also credited his staff and Teague athletic director, Donnie Osborn, for putting the girls through tough training and conditioning to prepare them for physical games.
“We physically and mentally train for games like this, so our kids are tough,” Nickleberry said. “So if you get a nick or a bruise, it’s part of the game, you get up and keep battling.”
Teague fans might be inclined to attend the regional playoff round with signs that say “keep battling” on them. It is a phrase Nickleberry repeated with pride to describe the mentality of his athletes.
“There aren’t any bad teams at this point in the season so you’ve got to keep battling for four quarters, and my kids just kept battling,” Nickleberry said. “We took the lead, lost the lead and had kids in foul trouble but we kept battling. We’re all in and that’s the result of what happened tonight.”
Part of that mentality was not giving up at halftime. The Lions made adjustments at halftime and came out more aggressive. It didn’t work right away, as the Cougars came out aggressive too. But by the fourth quarter the Lions had the Cougars on the ropes and started to get separation in what was previously an incredibly close game.
“We were trying to run a zone and guard the 3-point line early on but then that post wore us out in the first half,” Nickleberry said. “So we figured we could put pressure on the guards with our athleticism and speed the game up and I think that’s what helped turn the game around.”
But Teague exploded on offense too. A flurry of late steals led to fast breaks and scoring for the Lions.
“We have a team full of athletes and we like to get up and down the court fast,” Nickleberry said. “We just started taking it to the rim, making free throws and (Roblow) definitely made her presence known in the second half. We just kept working and that made the difference.”
Nickleberry knows he has a big challenge ahead when Teague plays Franklin on Tuesday. But for now he is happy with this victory and grateful to all the Teague fans who traveled to support his team.
“It feels great,” he said. “I took this job over three years ago and we’ve been doing good things ever since. We just played a good team, a proven playoff team, and I’m just proud of my kids.”
KaDaja Nickleberry lead the Lions with 31 points and was 13 of 17 from the free-throw line.
Jarrell senior Julie Tucker scored 29 points for the Cougars and added seven rebounds while hitting all seven of her free throws.
No. 18 Gatesville 51,
COPPERAS COVE – Behind the junior tandem of Rebekah Nolte and Allaria Jones, 18th-ranked Gatesville turned back Burnet in Class 4A area-round play.
Gatesville (32-3) has held each of its last five opponents under 40 points. The Lady Hornets will play the Madisonville-Taylor winner in the regional quarterfinals next week.
GROESBECK – After a convincing win over Wortham in its playoff opener earlier this week, Crawford saw its playoff run come to an end against Centerville in the Region III-2A area roundd.
Centerville advances to face Italy in the regional quarterfinals after the Lady Gladiators took out Mart on Thursday.
No. 3 Liberty Hill 50,
CAMERON – Mexia made it close, but third-ranked Liberty Hill sent the LadyCats to a rare second-round exit in the Class 4A area playoffs.
The Lady Panthers (32-2), whose only losses this season were to Kennedale in the Whataburger Tournament and to defending state champion Argyle early in the season, move on to face the Navasota-Fairfield winner in the regional quarterfinals.
Mexia hadn’t been knocked out in the second round since 2014 prior to this season.