WILLS POINT — Three days after the most popular one for couples, John Tyler prepares to meet its match.
JT, with 10 consecutive victories to its credit, matches up with a West Mesquite squad on a 15-game win streak in a Class 4A girls’ area basketball contest at 7 p.m. tonight at Wills Point High School.
JT (24-8) maintained its winning ways in a 52-48 bi-district win over Texas High on Tuesday. The Lady Lions scored the final eight points to claim their first playoff victory in four years, and just the program’s second since 2004.
“The excitement and adrenaline level was there,” third-year JT head coach Mike Smith said. “This one seems more like business.”
The competition appears much stiffer the second time, with West Mesquite ranked No. 16 in the state. West Mesquite (28-7) went 16-0 in District 15-4A before the Lady Wranglers throttled Hutto 80-51 to open the postseason.
JT’s recent play makes them a confident group, with nine straight wins coming by double digits or more prior to the close call on Tuesday.
“The hardest thing to get started is confidence and expecting to win,” Smith said. “Fortunately that’s what they’re starting to feel like. That’s what the last half in district and the win in bi-district has done, given us a new expectation. Now the kids know it’s a reality.”
JT turned it around after a three-point loss to Pine Tree, a team still alive after finishing a game ahead of the Lady Lions in the district standings.
The Lady Lions recommitted themselves after falling to 3-2 in district, getting hot at the ideal time.
Senior LaTifah Rainey averages a double-double of more than 18 points and 18 rebounds to lead the way. Three other juniors start: Nola Jackson, Quaneshia Johnson and Tiaka Lee. Meanwhile a pair of freshmen — Tameal Jones and Amia Wickware — share the other starting position.
The rest of the team consists of Danicia Jasper, DeShalyn Jones, Donishia Rouege, Kayla Webb and Khadaysia Young.
“We’ve had to grow,” said Johnson, who ranks third in her class with a 3.96 grade-point average. “We’re playing as a team. We’ve hit a spurt at the right time and we believe we have great team. We want to commend our coach. He keeps us positive and confident in ourselves.”
Lee echoed her fellow junior’s comments, harping on the team’s perseverance.
“A lot of people didn’t believe we could do it. We showed them we could,” said Lee, who scored a team-high 22 points against Texas High, and averages more than 18 per contest. “We learned from our mistakes. Everybody’s going to make mistakes. You just have to keep playing.”
Four West Mesquite players put up double figures in the scoring department for West Mesquite. Claudia Price, a 6-0 junior forward, averages a double-double of 17.5 points and 12.8 rebounds. Other standouts include senior guard Kierra Davis (13.8 points, 9.4 rebounds), senior point guard Sha’Georgia Williams (13.6 points, 10.3 assists) and sophomore point guard Alexus Bertrand (11.5 points, 6.1 assists).
West Mesquite outscores opponents 59-42 on average. JT counters by outscoring its opponents 55-46 on average.
“They’re a great ballclub and have beaten a lot of good teams,” Smith said of West Mesquite. “If we play hard and have some success against them early we feel we have a good chance.”
LIONS’ TALES: JT will be the visiting team Friday and wear its blue uniforms. Tickets cost $3 for students and $5 for adults. The JT-West Mesquite winner advances to the regional quarterfinals to take on Sherman or Pflugerville Connally on Monday or Tuesday. To get to Wills Point High School, take Highway 64 west (or I-20 west to Highway 69 north) to Highway 80 and head west. The high school will be on the left.