ALVARADO — A young Waxahachie team beating District 9-5A undefeated Crowley High School was a tall task.
Especially with lead guard Diamond Atchison patrolling the sidelines in street clothes.
Waxahachie would have avoided elimination during Tuesday's 70-52 bi-district round loss against the Lady Eagles at Alvarado Junior High School if not for two factors, though.
Taelour Pruitt and a mirror-image second half.
"We lost control of the game in the third quarter. That run really killed us," said Lesli Priebe, Waxahachie High School's head girls' basketball coach. "Seeing the way [Pruitt] played and how talented that team is, it's no surprise they went undefeated in district — and we play in one of the toughest districts in the state and one that will be just as difficult without (Chennedy) Carter."
Carter, a 5-foot-7 Texas A&M University commit, leads the undefeated Mansfield Timberview High School Lady Wolves. She and her team, per both MaxPreps and the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches, are one of the three best girls 5A teams in Texas. The senior guard was also rated the sixth best female player in the state and second at her position by ESPN.
Crowley (23-5, 14-0) entered the game on a 14-game win streak and the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches' No. 18 ranked 5A girls team.
They also touted Pruitt, a sweet outside shooting two-guard with an uncanny knack for finding her way into opponents' defensive interiors.
Nearly a year before the Lady Indian-Lady Eagle showdown in Alvarado, she was giving Rider High School fits. Responding to a pregame shootaround challenge, she scored 14 first-half points and gave the then No. 23 Crowley a six-point halftime lead.
Despite the back patting given to the undefeated Lady Eagles, Waxahachie nearly felled the giant without one of its most integral players and trailed 31-24 — a mere seven points going into halftime.
It wasn't veteran experience that nearly almost pulled off an upset of epic proportions and nearly negated Pruitt's point total. Rather, it was youth and promise helped the Lady Indians come within 16 minutes of saving their season.
Priebe said a lot of the good that came out of the first half was because of first-year varsity guard Rayna Ross and sophomores Destiny Bobb and Cassidy Morgan.
"Rayna has nothing to hang her head about," Priebe said as she hugged the freshman guard wiping tears rolling down her face. "She was amazing and one of the main reasons we stayed so close in the first quarter. She took over and was a girl possessed. Destiny had one of the best games of a young career and Cassidy hit some big shots when we needed them."
While Pruitt did her damage on one side of the court, Bobb, Ross, Morgan and fellow sophomore Paris Gantt parried the Lady Eagle attack on the other. The quartet combined for 20 of Waxahachie's 24-point first half total. Ross and Bobb led the underclassmen charge with nine and seven points each.
Morgan scored five of her seven points in the final two quarters and hauled in four rebounds and blocked a shot of her own.
After shooting 3-for-11 (27 percent) in the opening eight minutes of the game, the Lady Indians roared back and upped that percentage by 23. Their 50 percent shooting outpaced Crowley, which finished the half 4-for-13 (30 percent) in the second quarter.
The 6-foot-2 Bobb also stonewalled the Lady Eagles from the lane and relegated them to outside shots after swatting away six shots and pulling down nine rebounds. Ross who added a second-leading nine rebounds behind junior Sha'Quoria Thompson's game-high 11 boards, added a block to Waxahachie's total of nine.
The difference between the first half, though, was offensive rebounding and Pruitt's heat-check status.
"Waxahachie came out very intense and packed the lane, forcing us to settle for shots," Pruitt said about her team's performance before the 22-12 run after halftime. " They contested those very well, too. On the defensive end, they attacked us and continuously went to the foul line. We knew we had to play smarter defense and box out, so they didn't get the second chance points they got in the first half. When we went in the locker room we knew we had to crank it up two notches and hit them in the mouth before they hit us. Coach (Amy Gillum) told us they were going to throw everything they had at us in the first four minutes because they weren't going to give up. She told us we had to want it more than them."
Before leading the team back onto Alvarado's hardwood, Pruitt said her coach left them with the quote that helped power them to a victory.
"A hungry dog hunts best," Gillum said. "But a hungrier dog hunts better."
Crowley's junior captain scored 21 of her 30 points in the second half. Only Avery Brittingham (14 pts), Mia Williams (10 pts), Makayla Johnson (9 pts) and Monisha Moseley (2 pts) scored in the second half. The foursome combined for 18 points and helped the Lady Eagles outscore Waxahachie 39-28 to close the game.
Down 53-36 at the end of the third quarter, though, the Lady Indians rallied again using a pair of Thompson buckets and some deft slices through the Crowley defense by Morgan to score 16 points and end the game on an 8-2 run.
Though it was not enough to ensure the Lady Indians' repeat of an area round berth, Priebe said both the sting of defeat and the team's multitude of youth will make Waxahachie a contender in a tough 10-5A district next year.
She will return all 12 players on this year's playoff roster. Five — Atchison, Thompson, Makayla Davis, Destini Washington and Kaleah Young are juniors and seven — Bobb, Gantt, Morgan, Ross, Halle Becerra, Jordan McGee and Zoriah Johnson — are underclassmen.
"The disappointment they're feeling right now is something they'll learn from because this will hurt for a while," Priebe said. "It's going to be a reminder for six months for these young ladies. I am proud of this team for making the playoffs, though. This season has been the most injury-riddled season in 22 years of coaching, but the girls overcame adversity and made it into the postseason. With the collection of talent we have in the playoffs, there's a lot to be excited about in the near future."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.