With back-to-back District 20-1A victories over Walnut Springs and Covington, the Meridian Lady Jackets clinch playoff berth heading down the home stretch of the regular season
Using back-to-back impressive District 20-1A victories as a springboard, the Meridian Lady Jackets girls basketball team clinched a trip to the Class 1A postseason tournament. After battling to a hard-fought 48-38 win over the Walnut Springs Lady Hornets last Tuesday, the Lady Jackets crushed the Covington Lady Owls, 43-13, on the road last Friday to maintain sole possession of second place behind the undefeated district-leader Blum Lady Bobcats.
“As of now, we are the district runner-up, and we will do our best to finish district in that seeding,” Meridian girls basketball head coach Matthew Butler said. “With two games left to play, we feel good about our chances taking care of business with Kopperl, which will set up a big finale at Iredell to determine second place.”
With two regular season matchups remaining for the Lady Jackets (8-2 in district, 11-16 overall), Meridian plays host to the Kopperl Lady Eagles (0-9, 0-18) Thursday at 6 p.m. in a game postponed from Tuesday due to the icy winter weather event across North and Central Texas. Then after an open date in the schedule on Friday, Meridian will close out the district schedule on the road against the Iredell Lady Dragons (6-3, 13-3) at 6 p.m. Feb. 7 in a showdown for second place in district.
In a completely dominating performance on the road last Friday night, the Lady Jackets shut out Covington (3-6, 5-10) in the first quarter to build a commanding 27-5 halftime lead. Junior Canyon Stauffer led Meridian with 19 points while tossing down a trio of three-pointers.
“The Covington game went well with us jumping out to a 17-0 first quarter lead,” Butler said. “Overall, it was a good team win with all of our team contributing in some way. I love the coachability and effort of these girls. They represent themselves, their family and their school with class and pride every time they take the floor. We’ve come a long way from the first week back in November.”
Senior Erika Maldonado added seven points and pulled down four rebounds, sophomore Mackenzie Borhofen tossed in five points, while junior Eve Dirkse and sophomore Journey Stauffer led the Lady Jackets with five rebounds each.
“After getting the big lead, we then focused on different line ups with a “power team” playing some zone and our “quick team” playing man,” Butler said. “We played everyone in different line ups and experimented with some new zone presses and half court zone the second half.”
Although Meridian jumped out to a five-point lead in the first quarter against Walnut Springs (5-5, 8-10) last Tuesday, the Lady Hornets battled back to make it a two-point game before intermission. With the score tied going into the final frame, the Lady Jackets outscored Walnut Springs, 16-6, down the stretch to run away with the win.
“Our home game against Walnut was not our best effort, but we gritted out a win,” Butler said. “We executed our offenses pretty well and were able to get some scoring opportunities close to the basket, but unfortunately were not able to put the ball in the basket. To their credit, Walnut made shots and free throws while handling our pressure much better than the first meeting.”
Canyon Stauffer led the Lady Jackets with 17 points and five rebounds, followed by Dirkse with nine points and five boards, sophomore Mariana Paniagua with seven points, Journey Stauffer with six points, four rebounds and three steals, as well as Maldonado with six points and three rebounds.
“In the fourth, we changed up our defenses and were able to capitalize on some steals with some baskets,” Butler said. “We finished the game well and pulled out the victory. I think this game will serve as a good learning opportunity for us down the road.”
Despite losing their highly-anticipated District 20-1A rematch with Blum (9-0, 12-3) to open the second round, the Lady Jackets rebounded for a signature win to establish themselves as one of the teams to beat in the race for postseason berths. Even though losing to the Lady Bobcats, 43-29, left them realistically playing for second place, the Lady Jackets used a dominating 50-9 victory at Morgan Jan. 20 to take the driver’s seat down the stretch.
“The Morgan game was a good team effort for our girls,” Butler said. “I was especially proud of our defensive effort against Morgan, holding them to only three points going into the fourth quarter. We continue to improve in playing pressure defense without fouling.”
Jumping out to an early 17-3 first period lead, the Lady Jackets shut out the Eagles (2-8, 3-15) for the next two quarters before surrendering six points in the final frame. Journey Stauffer led Meridian with 17 points, eight rebounds and three steals, while Canyon Stauffer tossed in 13 points, pulled down six rebounds and grabbed three steals.
“It was good to have the opportunity to play everyone a lot — especially our younger, less experienced players in the fourth quarter,” Butler said. “The girls did a nice job sharing the ball and making the extra pass in transition to score some easy baskets. It is always our goal to consistently play at our best energy level and standard, no matter what the score.”
Hoping to avenge their 35-27 loss on Dec. 13, the Lady Jackets opened the second round of district with a disappointing 43-29 loss to undefeated district-leading Blum Jan. 17 in Yellowjacket Gymnasium, snapping Meridian’s five-game winning streak.
Using a fast-paced style of play, Blum ran past the Lady Jackets to build a commanding 22-12 first quarter lead before Meridian in the second to cut the advantage down to four points. But the Lady Bobcats rebuilt the lead before intermission and won the defensive battle in the second half to secure the win.
“The first quarter was high scoring with a lot of intensity, turnovers and fouls by both teams,” Butler said. “We dug ourselves a hole in the first quarter due to some turnovers and early fouls, which enabled them to score at the free throw line. However, I was really proud of our team’s effort fighting back to within four before the half.”
Although Meridian cut Blum’s lead down to seven points in the fourth, the Lady Bobcats hit their free throw opportunities down the stretch, making 22 of 37 shots from the line during the game, compared to the Lady Jackets with five of 19.
In the low-scoring effort, Canyon Stauffer led the Lady Jackets with seven points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals, followed by Journey Stauffer with six points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals, as well as Dirkse with five points and seven rebounds.
“Blum is an athletic high energy team who plays fast,” Butler said. “We had our opportunities, but we didn’t capitalize when we needed to down the stretch. I’m proud of the heart of our Lady Jackets as they played hard to the very end.”
Photos by WENDY OROZCO
©2023 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.