Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX


January 11, 2013

As District 8-4A teams vie for playoff berths, Cleburne hosts Crowley on Friday

CLEBURNE — Cleburne missed a great opportunity to put a little distance between themselves and the rest of the jumbled up District 8-4A on Tuesday when the Yellow Jackets fell at Centennial by two points. Now, the Jackets, 2-2 in district, face a tough task when they host Crowley, also 2-2 in district, today.

The Eagles are coming into the game fresh off a 56-23 pounding of Burleson on Tuesday (Cleburne beat Burleson, 49-39, on Jan. 4). Before Cleburne’s 54-52 loss to Centennial on Friday, the Yellow Jackets had won four of their past five games and were playing their best ball of the season.

“We knew that Tuesday would be a crucial game for us,” Cleburne Coach Jimmy Littleton said. “They’re all crucial but every game gets a little more important because everybody’s all kind of sitting together except for Waco University at 4-0. We knew we’d be in real good shape at 3-1, but now we’re 2-2 and Centennial is 2-2. There was a five-way tie for second  place going into Tuesday.”

Waco High also sits at 2-2 while Everman is 3-1.

“I thought Tuesday was a very crucial game to put us in a position to somewhere down the line get a third or fourth spot,” Littleton said. “That’s still very possible because we still have to play every one again. We still have a chance to make the playoffs, so we still have that big opportunity.

“We controlled our own destiny for a while. It’s unusual to say something like that when we’ve lost so many games this season, but we’re 2-2 in district. If you win seven or eight games in this district, you can pull off a playoff spot. There’s a lot of teams at 2-2 and 3-1 and I think the possibility [of a playoff spot] will be there all season. I think the last two weeks, you’ll kind of know if you’ll have a chance to make it or not. We just have to keep fighting and competing and hopefully that’ll give us a playoff spot.”

While Crowley is tied with several other teams at 2-2, the Eagles are one of the more athletic and talented teams in the district, Littleton said.

“What we face is a very athletic, long team that is very quick and very talented,” he said. “They are all pretty good shooters. They have a few guys who can really shoot the three. They play mostly man-to-man defense. I think their length and athletic ability will present problems. We have to control the tempo of the game. We can’t get in a running game with them because if we do, it’ll be over before it starts. We have to get back very quickly in transition defense. We need to contest shots.

“Our problem the other night [vs. Centennial] is we didn’t rebound the ball at all. And they made eight or nine uncontested lay-ups in transition or in their offense. Defensively, we broke down totally in the first half until the fourth quarter when we made our big run. We competed the last quarter, but if we had competed like that for four quarters, we would’ve won by a wide margin.”

Despite the early-season struggles the Jackets had to battle through, they are in position to make the playoffs, and that is the message Littleton is preaching to his team.

“I’ve been trying to relay the message to the kids that we’re just worried about district,” he said. “We’re not worried about our overall record, just our district record, and worried about a playoff spot and I think that opportunity will be there in the last two weeks.”

Littleton’s approach with this Cleburne team is a slow pace and defensive-oriented mindset, an approach that is almost the exact opposite of what the Jackets in previous years have been.

“You can’t play other peoples games,” Littleton said. “You have to do what you’re good at. We’re not what they used to be three years ago. We try to be a ball-control team. We try to rely heavily on defense. We’ve gotten a little better at those things, but we have so much room for improvement.

“We’ve just got to keep our heads up and keep fighting and maybe somewhere down the line we’ll be given some rewards for that.”

Tipoff for Friday’s game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Jeff D. Cody Gymnasium.

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