Familiar East Texas Faces Compete in 3A Region II Girls Basketball Tournament
District 13-3A rivals Pittsburg and Liberty-Eylau are each a Friday evening win away from Lady Pirates vs. Lady Leopards, Round 3.
The two teams split their regular-season meetings with Pittsburg winning 56-46 at home Jan. 18 and L-E claiming a 37-35 home win Feb. 5.
But before they meet again, they must beat strong teams in Friday's Class 3A Region II semifinals. No. 15 Pittsburg plays No. 16 Celina at 6 p.m. before No. 14 Liberty-Eylau plays No. 5 Krum at 8 o'clock. Both games are at Texas A&M-Commerce, which hosts Saturday's noon regional championship game.
Pittsburg and Liberty-Eylau and their veteran head coaches are no strangers to the regional tournament.
Liberty-Eylau is playing in its ninth consecutive regional tournament under longtime coach Rob Cochran, who led the Lady Leopards to a 2010 state championship. Prior to Cochran's arrival, L-E had failed to win a district game eight consecutive seasons.
Multiple seniors from this year's L-E squad played on the 2010 team as freshmen, including standouts Imani Wright and Sharde Collins. Wright, who signed with Baylor in November, combined with Arkansas-Little Rock signee Collins for 57 points in Liberty-Eylau's 65-48 regional quarterfinal win against Crandall on Tuesday at Spring Hill High School. Senior guard Alize Pegue, then a freshman, made a buzzer-beating layup to beat Kennedale by a point in the 2010 regional championship.
This is the third trip in four seasons for Pittsburg and coach Debra Manley, who won her 600th career game earlier this season. Manley laughed and said her senior-heavy team just assumed it would get back to the regional tournament this year.
"Do y'all know how hard it is to go back? Do y'all know how hard that is to do?" she said she asked her team. "And then we get in the new district (with Liberty-Eylau). We set goals at the beginning. We went 10-0 last year and 10-0 is hard to do back-to-back. We said 'Let's be realistic and let's go 9-1.' We went 9-1 and we said, 'Lets get to the regional tournament.'
"There's gonna be great teams at regionals, and we know that. There are better teams out there and we know that. But we're just gonna give it our best shot."
Pittsburg has had a different leading scorer in all three of its playoff games. Shakira Duffey's 21 points led Pittsburg in its 63-19 third-round blowout of Spring Hill, while Cheyenne Ramey's 14 points led the Lady Pirates in a 42-32 area-round victory against Bullard. DeNasia Watson scored 22 points in Pittsburg's 49-23 first-round rout of Quinlan Ford.
Despite its top 20 ranking, Celina qualifies as the closest thing to a Cinderella team at the regional tournament. Celina finished third in District 10-3A behind No. 4 Frisco Lone Star and No. 13 Argyle. Dallas Madison upset Lone Star in the second round, then Celina beat Madison 65-56 in overtime to qualify for the regional tournament.
Krum has rolled in two playoff games after earning a first-round bye. Krum beat Princeton 70-53 before cruising past No. 13 Argyle 62-40 to reach this weekend's event.
If the rankings mean anything at this point, Krum appears to be the bigger obstacle in the possibility of an all-East Texas championship Saturday afternoon. The rubber match wasn't necessarily predicted by either coach, but Manley and Cochran agreed to flip for the No. 1 seed from 13-3A after splitting the district series because of the eventual possibility of a playoff meeting.
"That's why we chose not to play it off because I said, 'You know, it could ... " Manley said and laughed. "It'll be hard, but if it happens, we're gonna get after it. It'll be a good game."