In a game befitting a national championship, Trinity Valley Community College and Tyler Junior College put on show Sunday night at Wagstaff Gymnasium.
Sha’Kayla Caples hit for 30 points as No. 1 and unbeaten TVCC held off an inspired effort by Markisha Hawkins and the No. 17 Apache Ladies to score a 75-67 victory in the Region XIV Women’s Basketball championship before about 1,000 enthusiastic fans.
The Lady Cardinals (32-0) advance to the NJCAA National Tournament March 20-24 in Salina, Kan. TJC ends its season at 25-8.
The outcome hung in the balance until two key 3-pointers by Breanna Lewis halted the Apache Ladies’ momentum in the second half. In their last two games, the Apache Ladies had rallied from 14 and 20 points down to win. But they couldn’t rally a third time despite a game-effort.
TVCC heads to the national tournament for the fifth consecutive year.
“Hats off to (TJC coach) Trenia (Jones) and her kids,” TVCC co-head coach Kenya Landers said. “They played their hearts out. ... I am so proud of my girls. We started out playing as ugly as you could, but they fought and fought. I have some pretty good players and they made some plays when they had to.”
Jones was equally happy with her team’s effort.
“I’m so proud of my kids,” Jones said. “… My kids worked so hard. Those kids when they came to TJC were not Division I players. They weren’t recruited by Division I schools. Those are the kids that got left behind. We put them together and they made a team; and in making a team they found a way to do something special.”
The All-American Caples added 11 rebounds and five assists. She was also named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
Lewis, who hit on 5 of 10 3-point attempts, had 15 points.
TJC was led by Hawkins, who had 22 points, 19 in the second half.
“Markisha ... it was her will to win,” Jones said. “She wanted it so badly. Markisha and those kids believed they could win. You want kids that believe ... when Caples seems like she can’t miss a shot, you need a team that has the passion and determination not to give up because it would be easy to do so. It looks so easy for (Caples). For us, we have to work so hard to do it. We’re hoping Caples is giving the glory to God for her talent, because I know we are giving God the glory for our talent and work ethic.”
Hawkins received a nice ovation from the TJC fans when she fouled out with just under a minute to play.
Besides Hawkins’ effort, Cecilia Okoye had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Keaira Arion added 12 points, while Ericka House pitched in 10. Ashley Benjamin, who drew four charges, had 15 rebounds.
The Apache Ladies actually outrebounded the Lady Cardinals, 51-48.
“We outrebounded the best team in the whole country,” Jones said, “We outrebounded a more athletic, a bigger team than us, a faster team than us; but we outrebounded them on tenacity and perseverance.”
For Landers, who shares coaching duties with her husband Michael, the win came a night before a special day for their family.
“This (win) is a birthday present (for daughter Michaela),” Kenya Landers said. Michaela’s second birthday is today.
With 8:45 to go in the game, Hawkins, who will play at Kansas next season, swished a trey to pull the Apache Ladies within 54-51. But two baskets by Caples, sandwiched around a 3-pointer by Lewis, pushed TVCC to a 61-51 lead with 6:46 to go in the game. TJC got within 66-60 (basket by Benjamin) and 69-63 (3-pointer by Amber Ames), the latter with 51.4 seconds remaining, but the Lady Cardinals made their free throws down the stretch to hold off the Apache Ladies.
Joining Caples and Hawkins on the all-tournament team were Okoye from TJC, along with Lewis and Kauna Flax from TVCC and Lon Morris’ Dominique Edwards.
Now, it’s off to Kansas for the Lady Cardinals and Jones hopes they do well. She feels her team is one of the top teams in the country as well.
“One great team is not going to get to the tournament. It’s like that every year for our conference,” Jones said, “You don’t want to run around saying we are No. 2, but know in our hearts we might be No. 2.
“We want Trinity Valley to go to the national tournament and win; beat everybody by 28 and 30 points. We hope they do that at the national tournament because this eight points they beat us by and us knowing we outrebounded them and we stuck with them, makes us and our conference look better. They are not only playing for our conference, not just for Trinity Valley and Athens, but they are also representing TJC and our conference.”
It was the 11th time TVCC and TJC have met in the regional final, with the Lady Cardinals winning seven times.
Region XIV Women’s Tournament Championship
Wagstaff Gymnasium, Tyler Junior College
No. 1 Trinity Valley 75, No. 2 Tyler 67
TYLER — Erick House, 10; Markisha Hawkins, 22; Ashley Benjamin, 6; Cecilia Okoye, 12; Shawnee Johnson, 2; Amber Ames, 3; Carolina Lopez, 0; Keaira Arion, 12; Kirbi Clark, 0.
TRINITY VALLEY — Starr Breedlove, 6; Brittney Gill, 2; Keuna Flax, 8; Alice Robinson, 2; Sha’Kayla Caples, 30; Breanna Lewis, 15; Ashley Jones, 2; Keina Vines, 5; Jenea Barrett, 5.
THREE-POINT GOALS — TJC: 7-22, House 2-3, Hawkins 3-9, Johnson 0-2, Ames 1-3, Arion 1-5. TVCC: 6-18, Flax 0-3, Caples 1-3, Lewis 5-10, Barrett 0-2.
HALFTIME SCORE — TVCC 34-27.
FREE THROWS — TJC 12-17, TVCC 13-21.
REBOUNDS — TJC 51 (Benjamin 15, Okoye 12), TVCC 48 (Caples 11, Robinson 6, Barrett 6).
TOTAL FOULS — TJC 24, TVCC 17.
ASSISTS — TJC 14 (Hawkins 3, Arion 3), TVCC 16 (Caples 5, Breedlove 4).
TURNOVERS — TJC 23, TVCC 20.
BLOCKS — TJC 4 (Benjamin, Okoye, Ames, Clark), TVCC 4 (Vines 2).
STEALS — TJC 7 (Arion 3), TVCC 11 (Breedlove 3, Flax 3, Robinson 3).
RECORDS — Tyler 25-8, Trinity Valley 32-0.
EST. ATT. — 1,000.