McKinney Christian Academy is preparing for its second-round girls basketball TAPPS playoff game at 3 p.m. Saturday, but it took some late exhaling to get past the opening game.
The Lady Mustangs beat their Collin County rival, Legacy Christian Academy of Frisco, 29-27, on Tuesday night in thrilling fashion as freshman point guard Julie James drove into the lane with the clock running down and coolly lofted a 1- foot floater towards the basket.
Every eye in Joshua's Gymnasium watched with anticipation as the orange orb arced, descended, and kissed gently off the inside of the left rim, falling through the net and to the floor as the buzzer sounded, trumpeting MCA's win over the visiting Eagles and advance to the Area round of playoffs.
The Mustangs record goes to 21-11 on the season and sets them up with an area round showdown with a No. 1 seed. They will travel to Fort Worth Lake Country at 3 p.m. Saturday.
James, District 4-3A Freshman of the Year, was actually not the first option on the Tuesday night play, but when junior forward Sidney Thompson looked for fellow junior and Mustang leading scorer, Kaitlynn McAdams, breaking to the low post, she found her blanketed by the Eagle zone as she had been the entire second half. Thompson kicked out to James, the second option on the play at the top of the circle. She eschewed the trey and knifed to the lane to launch the game winner.
This game could have gone either way as Legacy mounted a spirited comeback in the second half and tried to wrest a game from the Mustangs they had controlled for 3 and a half quarters. The Mustangs started strong against Legacy's man to man and McAdams, voted the No. 2 player in district 4-3A, was having her way with 6 points in the opening stanza on some deft post moves. Senior Natalie Lemieux hit a baseline jumper after a nice up and under move, Thompson added a put back and MCA was rolling offensively up 10-6 after one.
Meanwhile, James and the Mustang defense were doing a lockdown on district 3-3A's top player, Aubrey Allison, of the Eagles, who averages 25 points per contest. Allison scored the first basket for Legacy, but was held scoreless the rest of the half with James in her grill and McAdams and Thompson waiting for her in the paint.
The second stanza started well enough for the Mustangs as James bombed a long one over Legacy's new 2-3 zone defense designed to stop McAdams. If she wore a size 5 instead of a 6 it would have been for three, but the deuce put them up 12-6. However, the zone began to stymie McAdams and the Mustangs managed only a put back by sophomore Sarah Grubbs until almost halftime, when after a Legacy miss, MCA got the ball back just in time to sprint up the floor for a last shot. James took the ball from the right, penetrated the lane and kicked to outside the left arc to Lemieux who immediately drilled a 19-foot three pointer as the clocked ticked down to zero. Legacy would not get off another shot and this was a harbinger of things to come. The Mustangs high-fived each other to the locker room, up 17-11.
The Mustangs should have known better than to celebrate too early against these mercurial Eagles. Last year in the MCA Christmas tourney on this same floor, Legacy rallied from a 10-point deficit with 2 minutes to go against the Mustangs to force overtime only to lose in the extra period. They had another rally in them. James, who also had only two points at the half, got the Mustangs going in the third with a nice drive through the lane for a 19-11 lead. The Eagles answered in the third with Tiffany Dunlap, who after being held scoreless in the first half by Lemieux, broke loose to score all 7 of Legacy's points in the third. She started with 2 free throws and added a shot from the high post to cut the lead to 4 at 19-15. The Mustang's freshman backup forward Kaycee Zanetell then hit James on a drive to the basket for a 21-15 lead, but Dunlap closed the quarter with a line drive three pointer from the top and things were getting tight at 21-18 after 3. They would get tighter.
McAdams continued to struggle with the extra attention, but opened the fourth with a nice feed to Thompson on the left baseline who swished a 12-footer for a 23-18 advantage. The Mustangs defense was relentless and the Eagles were struggling for answers, coming up empty on 8 straight futile possessions following Dunlap's trey. MCA fared little better and when the normally reliable McAdams missed two freethrows it was clear points were hard to come by. The Mustangs did it with defense as James tipped a ball away from Allison to Grubbs who found Lemieux running free on the left side for a 15 footer and a mildly comfortable 7 point lead with 4 minutes to play. It was now crunch time and time for all would be stars to come out. Allison, who had not scored now in over three quarters, answered the call. She drove the left side, was fouled by McAdams and swished both free throws to make it 25-20. Following a Mustang turnover, the Eagles missed a shot, two Mustangs battled for the loose ball on the floor and Dunlap came up with it off of a funny bounce, turned and dropped it in to close to 25 to 22 with 3 minutes to play. Suddenly, old Mo' was wearing Green and Gold.
Allison then picked off a Mustang pass and streaked to the far basket trailed closely by Lemieux who was not about to let her get an easy two. In fact, the hard foul resulted in a two shots and the ball penalty and the air was getting thin in the Mustangs' stands. Allison converted only one of two and the Eagles missed on the possession, but Allison was not done. Following another Mustang miss, she raced up the middle, caught a pass in stride, and split two defenders to even the score with for the first time since the opening tip at 25 all with 2 minutes to play. And after yet another poor Mustang shot selection, the Eagles found Anne Drew Allen in the lane for a short jumper and their first lead in the game, 27-25 with a minute and a half to play. Lesser teams might have quit then, but fortunately, the Mustangs have some star power of their own. James answered quickly with a twisting, acrobatic drive in the lane to knot it up at 27 all. Each team would trade misses and turnovers in the next 45 secs until McAdams, who led MCA with 11 boards, corralled the last Eagle miss to set up James' heroics. After a timeout, the Mustangs ran the clock down to 12 seconds before executing the play to perfection. Sometimes second options are the best ones.
James led the Mustangs with 10 points followed by Lemieux with 7 and McAdams with 6. McAdams had the 11 boards while Thompson had 4 points and 9 caroms. Grubbs also had an outstanding individual effort defensively holding the high scoring Eagle point, Caitlin Cataldi to 5 points. She led in steals with 3 and assists with 3 and garnered 5 rebounds.
Legacy was led by Dunlap with 9 and Allison with 7 including 5 in the closing minutes.