JEWETT, Texas — Lady Gladiator basketball didn't just win the day, it ruled the night.
Italy High School won its first bi-district championship since 2009 Tuesday night at Leon High School Gymnasium after a 71-55 throttling of Lovelady's Lady Lions.
Italy reached the playoffs in 2015 but received a bye because of its district championship status.
"It feels good refreshing, to be able to play another game. It's a win-or-go-home season from here on out," said LaQuita Walker, Italy's head girls basketball coach. "Sometimes you can come in too confident and underestimate a team and get upset. That's not the mindset we came into the game with and that's ultimately what helped us prepare for a team that was better than its record. We push to stay humble and respect each team and their abilities. The minute we walked out the gym, we started focusing on the next game."
Italy (28-4, 9-2) entered the bi-district playoff game as the District 19-2A No. 2 seed while Lovelady High School finished its schedule as the District 20-2A No. 3 team. The (19-14, 7-3) Lady Lions, which share district space with Big Sandy, Centerville, and Grapeland High Schools, also won five of their last six games before tangling with the Lady Gladiators.
While during the season the duo of senior Aarion Copeland and Emmy Cunningham set the pace, on Tuesday it was another senior — explosive shooting guard Decorea Green — that provided the spark. In addition to a game-high 17 points and a season-high eight assists, Green swatted away one shot.
Copeland and Cunningham or the rest of the Lady Gladiators didn't stand silent as their sister went on a scoring rampage, though. Copeland and Cunningham notched respective 10-point and 12-rebound and 14-point and 21-rebound double-doubles and Brycelen Richards (15 pts, 4 asts) and T'Keyah Pace (12 pts, 3 stls) scored in double figures.
It was the first time this season five Italy players finished with 10 or more points.
Though Lovelady kept pace through the first two quarters and entered halftime with a 31-point deadlock, 16 more minutes of high school basketball was all Italy needed to turn a tie into a blowout. The Lady Gladiators, behind a 25-10 fourth quarter run outscored the Lady Lions 40-24 in the second half.
Italy's defense also held Lovelady's leading scorers — freshman Kaiden Lemaire and seniors Emily McLure and Sydney Shoemaker — to 12 points each.
Walker said the battery of District 19, though, helped prepare she and her girls for the rigors of a treacherous playoff road. It is one that will continue against Mart High School at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at West High School Gymnasium.
"Our district from top to bottom has helped us develop into the team we are right now — especially those battles against LaPoynor," she said. "Every game we had to come ready to compete and bring our A-game. Every team in the playoffs will demand the same preparation. We have to finish at the rim, make free throws and rebound. This team is quick and because they don't quit and work hard, this is going to be a battle from tip-off to buzzer. Being well-coached and super athletic is what Mart brings to the table and we will have to match that to have a chance to make it to the next round."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.