Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

Sports

February 11, 2014

Lady Jackets' playoff quest begins against Arlington Heights

CLEBURNE — The Cleburne Lady Jackets achieved three of their goals during regular-season play — increase their win total from the 2012-13 season, clinch a playoff berth and win a district title. With those three goals accomplished, now the Lady Jackets are vying for another big goal — reaching Austin. And the first step in that journey begins Wednesday against Fort Worth Arlington Heights in the bidistrict round of Class 4A playoffs.

Cleburne and Arlington Heights are scheduled for a 6 p.m. tipoff Wednesday from Mansfield Legacy High School. The game was originally scheduled for Tuesday but was postponed due to weather.

Arlington Heights lost to Granbury, 60-53, on Saturday in a tiebreaker game to determine playoff seeding out of District 7-4A.

“They’re a solid basketball team,” Cleburne Coach Jamie Calahan said. “They shot the 3-ball pretty well in the first half against Granbury. They’re solid. They’re quick and they’ve got some athleticism. They’ve got a freshman guard who’s pretty good. They’re just a solid basketball team.”

Calahan said Cleburne and Arlington Heights are similar in size.

“They’re not real big, but they scrap and play hard and get after it,” he said. “It’ll be a good first-round test for us.”

Cleburne finished second in District 8-4A play a year ago and squared off against Granbury in the bidistrict round. The Lady Pirates prevailed, 54-33, over Cleburne in the first playoff game for the Lady Jackets in quite some time. Calahan said he expects last year’s playoff experience to help prepare his Lady Jackets for this year’s postseason.

“I think it’s one of those things that, after last year, you have to wait a whole year to get that redemption back,” Calahan said. “All of this other stuff that leads up to the playoffs is nice, but you have to wait a whole year to get back here. I think our kids are very anxious for this. It’s what they’ve been working hard for. It’s been hard to keep focus, but now that we’re here, the focus is automatically there because this is what you’ve been working towards for about 365 days.”

Calahan’s keys to victory and game plan for each season and each game is always the same, regardless of the opponent — defend and rebound.

“We’ve got to defend and rebound,” he said. “If we defend and rebound and then get out and run a little bit, we’ll have a good chance. If we hold them under 10 points a quarter, I like our chances. But that’s where it starts — defense and rebounding.

“We know what we have to do. We know if we keep people in the 40’s, we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win a lot of ball games. We want to make a run. We don’t want to be one-and-done like last year. Last season was the first time Cleburne’s been in the playoffs for a while. We’re going to take it one game at a time and go from there. Our biggest key is to defend and rebound. If we can do that, we think we can play with a lot of people.”

Cleburne (23-7, 12-2) is led by senior guards Bria McCullough and Courtney Jeffcoat. McCullough scores 11.9 points per game and Jeffcoat averages 10.1 points, 4.2 assists and 2.5 steals per game.

Jazlin Jones has been a welcomed addition to the Lady Jackets this season as she has averaged 8.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 steals per contest since moving from Alvarado.

Calahan said he talks with his players about winning each day, whether it’s practice or game day. He said they’re not looking ahead at the next possible opponent.

“You have to be able to get to the next one by winning this one,” Calahan said. “We’ve been doing a good job of keeping them focused a day at a time. We always talk about winning the day, whether it’s practice or a game. Win the day that we’re on and not worry about the next one until the next one’s here.”

Prior to this season tipping off, Calahan said he would be talking with his players about reaching the ultimate prize of clinching a trip to Austin.

“The ultimate goal is Austin,” Calahan said in November. “I’ll never coach a year where that’s not one of our goals because if you never have that goal, you’ll never get there. So that’s our ultimate goal. Is it going to be tough to get there? Most definitely. There’s a lot of good teams around here. But if that’s not one of your goals, then, as a coach, I don’t know why you do it. We want to play at the Frank Irwin Center. We talk about it in practice, in games, we talk about it. It’s very talked about in our program, and it’ll be talked about as long as I’m here.”

The first step of Cleburne’s hopeful journey begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

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