Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

Sports

February 20, 2014

Cleburne plays No. 4 Canyon in regional semis Friday in Snyder

Fighting for a trip to Austin

CLEBURNE — In October, Cleburne Coach Jamie Calahan said the Lady Jackets’ ultimate goal for the 2013-14 season was to end it with a trip to Austin. Following back-to-back nail-biting wins over Denton Guyer and No. 2 Aledo in the Class 4A area round and regional quarterfinals, respectively, the Lady Jackets are two wins away from punching their ticket to Austin.

Cleburne (26-7) faces fourth-ranked Canyon (27-4) at 4 p.m. Friday at The Coliseum in Snyder in a Region I semifinal game. The winner will advance to the regional final at 2 p.m. Saturday against the winner of El Paso Burges (26-4) and No. 10 Fort Worth Trimble Tech (29-5).

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Calahan said. “They’re ranked No. 4 for a reason. But this deep in the playoffs, the last 16 teams left in the state in Class 4A right now, it’s going to be tough every time you step on that floor. It’s pretty remarkable [how far we’ve come]. The girls have worked their tail off. They understand what’s at stake. We’re happy — but we’re not satisfied.”

Cleburne beat Fort Worth Arlington Heights, 73-39, in bidistrict. The Lady Jackets then survived a pair of down-to-the-wire matchups with a 62-60 win over Denton Guyer in area and a 52-49 victory over Aledo in the regional quarterfinals.

Canyon recorded a pair of blowout wins in their first two playoff games as the Lady Eagles defeated Hereford, 70-39, in bidistrict, followed by a 65-33 win over El Paso Eastlake in area. Canyon then battled its way to a 42-39 win over No. 22 Plainview on Monday in the regional quarterfinals.

“Cleburne is a great team that beat another great team, Aledo, in the playoffs,” Canyon Coach Joe Lombard said. “We are excited to be in the regional tourney and have to be at our best to have a chance to beat Cleburne. I know Cleburne is quick and athletic with good shooters, and that is a great combination to have on a team. We will have to play our game, which includes solid defense, keep mistakes to a minimum, and timely offense.”

Unlike Aledo, which only played seven players and primarily relied upon two players to do the heavy lifting on Tuesday, Canyon is a deep and well-balanced team.

“They’re deep and they have a long bench,” Calahan said. “From what I understand, they play quite a few people. They’re very fundamental and just very solid all around. They do things the right way. They box out and rebound well. They do all of the fundamental stuff and they shoot the ball really well. They’re a very well coached team.”

The key for the Lady Jackets — as always — begins and ends with defense.

“We’ve got to defend,” Calahan said. “We have to keep them out of the paint. We can’t have halves like we had against Guyer. Defense is always huge for us. They say defense wins championships, and that’s what we’re trying to base ourselves on.”

In the first half against Guyer, Cleburne’s defense wasn’t up to its typical standards as the Lady Wildcats scored 20 first-quarter points and 16 in the second. But the Lady Jackets turned their defensive intensity back to full throttle in the third quarter, holding Guyer to only nine points, sparking the last-second victory.

Against Aledo, the Lady Jacket defense was in attack mode from the start. Cleburne forced the Lady Bearcats into seven first-quarter turnovers and held the No. 2 team in the state to 29 percent shooting in the first half and 38 percent shooting for the game.

Calahan said the Lady Jackets will need a similar defensive effort against Canyon to advance to the regional final.

Canyon has shown the ability to play at any pace this season. The Lady Eagles typically play at a slow pace and see final scores in the 40’s. But Canyon also has the ability to play in a high-scoring game as the Lady Eagles have finished with final scores in the 60’s and 70’s.

“From what I understand, they don’t want to run,” Calahan said. “They want to slow the pace down.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Lady Jackets are at their best when they’re playing at a fast pace in the open court following a defensive stop and rebound or steal.

Calahan said the environment of being on the road and playing in a big venue won’t be an issue after competing in several elite tournaments earlier in the season.

“We went to College Station and played in the McDonald’s Tournament,” he said. “We went to Wichita Falls and played in the Fantasy of Lights Tournament. We played in those tournaments to be prepared for a weekend like this.”

The Lady Jackets are led by senior guards Bria McCullough and Courtney Jeffcoat. McCullough scores 11.9 points to go along with 2.3 assists and 2.1 steals per game. Jeffcoat averages 10.7 points, 3.9 assists and 2.4 steals per game and has connected on a team-high 66 shots from 3, including 10 3-pointers in the previous two games.

Sophomore guard-forward Jazlin Jones adds 9.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.9 steals per contest while junior forward Jasline Chandler scores 6.8 points to go with 6.3 rebounds.

The Lady Eagles are led by 5-foot, 11-inch senior post Madison Parker, sophomore guard Caitlyn Cunyus and freshman guard Angel Hayden.

Canyon, which has won five state championships in Class 4A and 10 state championships in Class 3A since 1969, lost to Aledo, 54-31, in the regional semifinals in 2013.

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