MALAKOFF, Texas — The (20-3, 4-1) Lady Gladiators claimed their seventh win in a row Tuesday night, knocking off Malakoff Cross Roads High School 65-55 at CRHS Gymnasium with the help of 23 points from first-year Lady Gladiator Aarion Copeland.

"I haven't had to force any one of the girls to step up," said LaQuita Walker the head girls' basketball coach at Italy High School. "It warms my heart so because as a coach, I need them to know the talent that they have in them. The scoring we received from Shaniya Johnson was big, but her defense sets her apart from other freshmen. It's like she has no fear when she steps out on the court."

In addition to causing havoc on the court defensively, Johnson's 12 points and two 3-pointers powered Italy when they were deadlocked with Cross Roads. Behind her glue-like defense, the Lady Gladiators allowed only 14 points in the first quarter and 11 in the second.

The (16-6, 1-4) Lady Bobcats' leading scorers, Marilyn Alvarado (20 pts) and Cynai Wilson (13 pts) combined for 11 points in the first half. While Cross Roads struggled, though, Italy rolled.

It used performances from Decorea Green (11 pts) and Emmy Cunningham (10 pts), as well as three points each from T'Keyah Pace and Brycelen Richards and one from Vanessa Cantu to power their way up the district standings.

"Every game we need to come prepared to battle because no victory will be easy," Walker said. "Any victory is a victory, though. The win on Tuesday just made Friday's game against Cayuga — Cayuga plays hard and tough — a lot bigger."

With Tuesday night's victory, Italy moved into a two-way tie for second place in District 19-2A with Kerens High School. They are also one game behind LaPoynor High School, the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches' No. 4 girls 2A team in the state.

The Lady Gladiators will face Cayuga High School at 6 p.m. Friday at IHS Gymnasium. The (12-12, 3-2) Lady Wildcats fell to LaPoynor 50-44 on Tuesday, their third loss in five games.

"We have to prepare for an intense game going down to the buzzer because of their scrap and fight and the fact they box out and rebound well," Walker said about underestimating their opponent coming off the close loss. "Their guards are aggressive and can run all day, too. This Friday definitely is going to be a battle of the black and gold."

Marcus S. Marion can be reached at for story ideas or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter @MarcusMarionWNI.