Gradual Slide: Lionettes fall to Lady Raiders in playoff opener
LEWISVILLE - Despite a resilient effort, the McKinney Lionettes saw their basketball season end Monday night in a 54-40 loss to Dallas Skyline in their bi-district matchup from Lewisville High School.
"Skyline is a very impressive team," said Debbie Harris, McKinney head coach. "They're very athletic, very big, and very strong. There weren't any surprises. I think our kids competed well at times. I'm pleased. I think we had a great season."
With one of the smallest rosters in a tough district, many expected McKinney to struggle this season. The Lionettes, however, came together and ended their season in the playoffs.
"My biggest hope is that through what we have accomplished this season, they will get more confidence, because that's difficult to coach," Harris said. "The biggest thing that helped us in our district was that our kids play as a team. We've beaten a lot of people we shouldn't be on the court with and it's because our kids believe in each other and they won't quit on themselves or on their teammates."
Junior Mariah Mitchell scored 24 points for McKinney, followed by five from junior Jazsmin Nelson and four from junior Leslie Zupanic.
While the Lady Raiders would consistently have a solid lead, it was far from ever dominant, as they often hovered around the 10-point margin in the first half and the 15-point margin for much of the second half.
McKinney largely kept pace with Skyline to start, as the Lady Raiders held only a 4-point lead after the first. That, however, would grow to a 28-17 edge for Skyline heading into the half.
While things were much tighter in the first half, the Lady Raiders capitalized off the Lionettes' various miscues in the second half, ranging from poor passes to turnovers to missed shots.
"They physically outplayed us, especially inside," Harris said. "In the second half I don't think we pressured the basketball very well from the guard position, which allowed them more movement. There were some breakdowns because we couldn't matchup with some of their players."
Any edge McKinney could gain was quickly neutralized by Skyline. Mitchell sank a three midway through the third, only to have Skyline immediately do the same seconds later.
Skyline was hardly dominant. Rather, the Lady Raiders were timely and efficient, allowing them to gradually build and then maintain their lead against a Lionettes squad that kept it close for much of the game.
McKinney did excel from the charity stripe, making a majority of their shots from the free-throw line in the second half.
The Lionettes appeared to gain some momentum at the end of the third as they made a pair of free throws followed by a Zupanic 3-pointer. A quick turnover however halted the momentum and any chance for McKinney to have the last shot in the quarter.
The Lady Raiders led 46-31 entering the fourth. Skyline would hold McKinney in check the rest of the way.
While she's proud of her team's effort this season, Harris said it's her job to continually make sure her players believe in themselves, as it's her program's focus to build up character, rather than just the win column.
"From the Xs and Os standpoint, that part is easy to coach," she said. "But we spend so much time talking with our kids about character and making more with your positives that I got to figure out ways that I can put them in situations where they as individuals feel like they have more confidence."
The loss saw McKinney bid farewell to seniors Brittany Collard and Nicole Quincy, both of whom Harris said will be missed.
"From a coaching standpoint, both of our seniors contributed a lot to this team," she said.
The Lionettes will return several key starters next year, with Nelson and Mitchell chief among. As she looks towards next season, Harris said she's encouraged by what she sees as she hopes her program will build off its current postseason berth.
"This whole season has been promising for me," she said. "The fact that we have a good nucleus coming back and that our team will pretty much be the same next year makes me very excited."