Girls move to playoffs; boys still in first

On a wet and brutal night, Pleasant Grove’s boys and girls came away from Liberty-Eylau’s Radar Dome with a pair of closely fought, razor-thin losses.

A 51-50 loss dropped the Lady Hawks to second place and gave the District 14-4A championship to L-E, which improved to 17-11, 9-1 in district. Pleasant Grove dropped to 19-8 and 8-2.

Both teams will take on the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds from 13-4A Monday at Spring Hill High School in Longview. L-E plays Mabank (6-13, 3-5) at 6 p.m. PG takes on Van (18-15, 5-5) at 8.

The boys, who saw a chance for a tying basket with 47 seconds remaining, fell 67-63, dropping to 6-2 district and nursing a one-game lead with two games remaining, at home Tuesday against North Lamar and at Atlanta Friday.

Madeline Haak, left, and Monique Walker battle for position on an inbounds pass.

L-E 51, Lady Hawks 50

Pleasant Grove dug out of a 17-3, first-quarter hole to turn the championship game in a hair-on-fire nail-biter that produced six lead changes in the second half.

Kalijah Johnson hit the first shot of the game, a three-pointer, to get the Lady Leopards off to picture-perfect shot, building an 8-0 lead before Pleasant Grove’s Madeline Haak finally drove the lane to put up PG’s first points nearly three minutes into the game.

Johnson would finish with three treys, and her teammates added three more, and L-E would need every one of them to hold off PG, which was missing a starter, Ashanti Levingston, with an injury. It was not until Abby Hine’s desperation, 40-foot heave at the buzzer bounced off the backboard that L-E’s title was secured.

“It was just who was going to have the last bucket,” said Pleasant Grove coach Jason Boston, who now has a week to prepare his team for the playoffs. “I like our chances. We have a week to get ready and we’ll be back in full force.”

The win was sweet for L-E coach Aquanetta Watson who saw her team enter district play with losing record.

“To come out and have a roller-coaster season and be district champs at the end – wow!” she said. “We played great team defense tonight.”

Led by seniors Monique Walker, who had 12 points, all of them in the paint, and Madeline Haak, who had 13, the Lady Hawks clawed back into the contest, trailing 28-26 at the half, and leading 44-40 after three.

“I love those two kids,” Boston said. “Madeline Haak and Monique Walker left it all out on the court tonight. It has been a joy to coach them.”

Playing before a packed house on senior night, L-E proved to be equally resilient. In the fourth quarter, post Derrica Henry came up with a pair of inside buckets and Skyler Bailey hit her second trey of the evening to help the Lady Leopards pull ahead for good with less than two minutes remaining.

Taylor Crabtree led all scorers with 17 points, Thompson had 11 and Keely Norris 10 for the district champs.

L-E 67, Hawks 63

Xavier Benson fights through traffic to score against Liberty-Eylau

In a game that saw eight lead changes and the biggest lead was six, Decorian Phillips was the difference. The senior guard hit five three-points, four in the second half and every one from the right corner, on his way to a game-high 26 points.

For the night, the Leopards sank eight three-pointers while the run-and-gun Hawks were iced cold from outside the stripe. Aaron Harmon’s trey at the 2:38 mark of the first half lifted the Hawks into a 29-23 lead was Pleasant Grove’s lone trey of the game.

It was followed by three straight turnovers that sent the Hawks into the locker room a short end of a 36-34 score.

“We just didn’t play,” said PG coach Billy Brewer. “We don’t have that continuity. We have to learn when to play hard, because we’ve got a big target on our back.”

L-E’s long-range bombardment overshadowed some good things for the Hawks. Freshman center Landon Jackson had seven blocks to go with six points. Xavier Benson had his best outing of the season, putting 21 points, most off tough, tightly contested buckets in the paint.

Kam Woods had 11 for PG.

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A veteran journalist and educator, Bill Owney is a 1980 graduate of the University of Florida. Writing awards include APME honors for investigative reporting, the Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Award for public service reporting and numerous awards for editorial, column and news writing. He served as publisher of the Atlanta Citizens Journal and Pittsburg Gazette when each paper won sweepstakes awards from the Texas Press and North and East Texas Press Associations. He spent 15 years as a public school teacher and is an adjunct professor of English at Texarkana College.

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