In what could be described as no less than a down-to-the-wire thriller, the postseason aspirations of the Calhoun Lady Jackets were dashed with a razor-thin 60-54 loss to the Coahulla Creek Lady Colts in the first round of the Region 6-AAA Tournament on Monday at Sonoraville High.
The Lady Jackets (11-12) appeared to be firmly in the driver’s seat for the majority of the first half, utilizing a steady formula of pressuring the Lady Colts (12-12) down the length of the court in order to generate turnovers, controlling the offensive and defensive boards and converting those into easy scores at the opposite end at an efficient clip.
As she has done so many times this season, Calhoun received an impactful early spark from the agile guard and veteran leader Erin Davis, who racked up 15 of the team’s 29 first half points. She finished with a game-high 20 in what turned out to be her final game in a Lady Jackets uniform.
“I cannot brag on Erin enough,” Calhoun head coach Kayla Ralston said. “She stepped up tremendously this season, accepted the challenge and led this young team. There was a lot of pressure being the only senior and really only player with varsity experience. This final season, Erin finally let loose to play up to her full potential each and every game. I am proud of all her contributions this entire season, but most importantly, I am most proud of the young lady and teammate that she has grown up to be. It has been an honor to coach Erin and watch her grow. I hate her high school career had to end the way it did, but I know the future is bright. She is absolutely unstoppable when she sets her mind to something and believes in herself.”
Even though Coahulla Creek pieced together a couple of small scoring runs, the Lady Jackets expanded its lead from 15-8 at the end of the first quarter to 29-22 at the break. It appeared as if the second half would be more of the same, with Calhoun increasing the scoring margin to double-digits with a swift 6-3 run by the duo of Davis and forward Anna George.
However, around the midway point of the third quarter, the rhythm and flow of the game began to shift momentarily in the favor of the Lady Colts, who ratcheted up the physicality and defensive intensity in the full court press to piece together an instrumental 10-3 run that shaved Calhoun’s advantage to four heading into the game’s final period.
“Coahulla Creek was able to force some crucial turnovers late in the game that they really capitalized on,” Ralston said. “They got hot and started making some big shots that turned the game around. I thought a few calls down the stretch really changed the momentum of the game (to their advantage), but that’s part of it. You’re not always going to get the calls that you think you should, so you have to find a way to answer and unfortunately we ran out of time”
With the season on the line for both squads, the last few minutes proved chaotic.
In total, the fourth quarter featured a handful of lead changes that culminated with the score knotting up at 50-50 with less than three minutes left. The Lady Colts maintained its high level of physicality and continued converting transition baskets to go up 56-50 with less than a minute to go, and 58-53 with less than 30 seconds remaining. From there, the team was able to knock down the majority of its crunch time free throws and lock in the win.
“My girls battled hard until the very end,” Ralston said. “We knew what was at stake and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We put up a good fight. Unfortunately, someone had to lose that game and it was us.”
Even though the postseason didn’t yield the desired results, Ralston is pleased with the growth this team made over the course of the regular season and is looking forward to taking even more of a step forward next season.
“I am so proud of this team,” Ralston said. “We came such a long way since November. We may not have always ended up in the win column after every game, but there were plenty of positives to take away from each win and loss. The entire season, we continued to head in the right direction. It may not have been leaps and bounds, sometimes only baby steps, but always in the right direction. This was a rebuilding year since we are very young, but the experiences and battles we faced taught us more than anyone or anything ever could. This game isn’t easy. Nothing is easy. We have to trust the process and fall in love with it. I have high hopes and I wouldn’t trade this team for anything.”
The loss not only brought a close to the Lady Jackets’ season but also to their impressive streak of 10 straight trips to the state tournament.
Coahulla Creek moves on to face North Murray in the second round on Wednesday.