By JUSTIN RAINS
A year removed from a regional semifinal appearance, the idea that the Slocum girls’ basketball team would be good once again this season wasn’t a strange one.
The Lady Mustangs graduated only one player — star post Cristina Wickersham — from that squad that gave state semifinalist Martin’s Mill everything it wanted in the regional semifinals.
But, for the second time in three years, the Mustangs were breaking in a new coach and, with that usually comes inherent complications.
Not, however, for this Slocum club. The Lady Mustangs, behind first-year coach Miranda Lasiter, started the year 15-0 before falling to Class 2A White Oak right after Christmas.
“Already being a part of the program, I kind of knew where we were coming from and knew what we had,” Lasiter said Wednesday. “So, exceeded expectations...is not the right word. They’ve persevered really well.”
When they begin the playoffs at 6 p.m. Friday in Tenaha against Harleton, the Lady Mustangs will enter with a 29-2 record and No. 8 ranking from the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches.
The Lady Mustangs’ second loss came to Lovelady, who before 2012-2013 held a vice-grip on whichever district it played in. When the Lady Lions defeated Slocum, 53-41, in Lovelady, it looked like that dominance might continue.
But, it didn’t. At all.
When the two teams matched up for the second time in late January, Slocum came away with a 75-51 blowout win. That win ended an almost six-year district winning streak for the Lady Lions.
That set up last Saturday’s tiebreaker game, which Slocum again won handily, 52-35, behind a second-half surge that saw the Lady Mustangs outscore Lovelady 31-16.
That win sealed the District 20-A, Division I district title for the Lady Mustangs and gave them a first round bye in the playoffs. That was great, Lasiter said, in the moment.
Now, it’s time to focus on the task at hand.
“We’ve taken one game at a time,” she said. “Yea, we’re district champions but that’s over. Our focus now is on Harleton.”
Lasiter said she refused to single out one specific player for her team’s success this season. Instead, she focused on every player on the roster doing her job.
From there, it’s obvious that good things will happen. That 29-2 record speaks for itself.
“I don’t take anything away from any part of our team. Everybody has a job to do on a given night,” she said. “Right now, our focus is team and what we have to do to win that next game.”
Friday’s game will see two teams of similar style on the floor. Lasiter said Harleton — which defeated Wortham 59-56 Tuesday in the bi-district round — does many of the same things well that Slocum does.
And, she added, simply being the higher-ranked team doesn’t mean anything now. Any team can beat any other on a given night in the playoffs.
“They shoot the ball well and they run the floor,” she said. “In the playoffs it’s anybody’s game, that’s why we play.”
CAYUGA vs. Chilton
8 p.m. Friday, Groesbeck H.S.
Behind 18 points from Madison Spears and a big night inside from Shawnta Knox, the Cayuga girls’ basketball team moved on to the area round of the playoffs with a 63-54 win over Overton Tuesday.
Knox finished with 12 points, 15 rebounds and five steals for the Ladycats, who move on to face Chilton, the champions of District 19-A, Division I.
That game is set for 8 p.m. Friday at Groesbeck High School, with the winner moving on to face the winner of the Martin’s Mill/Lovelady area matchup in the regional quarterfinals.
Molly Griffey, Danielle Anderson and Madyson Gunnels all added nine points for Cayuga in the win.
PALESTINE vs. China Spring
7 p.m. Friday, Corsicana H.S.
The time of the Palestine/China Spring area round matchup has been finalized, and will tip-off at 7 p.m. Friday at Corsicana High School.
Palestine advanced to the play the Lady Cougars, who won District 17-3A, by beating Pollok Central 53-45 Monday in Rusk.
Sports editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at email@example.com