WILLIS — New Caney keeps winning and are trending towards a return to the playoffs.
The Lady Eagles extended their win streak to eight games Tuesday night with a 56-40 win at Willis to begin the second round of District 20-5A.
New Caney (19-6, 8-2), which missed the postseason last year, came into the night tied for second with Kingwood Park. Willis (7-18, 5-5) was tied for fifth place and a game back from the final playoff spot entering the evening.
New Caney took an early lead in the first quarter primarily with defense. The Lady Eagles forced Willis into 12 turnovers while the Ladykats scored just three points and attempted three shots.
“We’ve been talking a lot about playing together on the defensive end,” New Caney coach Tricia Mize said. “Talking more on the defensive end. Moving when the ball moves, not whenever the ball gets there. Really just coming together and playing as one.”
Junior Tori Garza made a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give New Caney a 12-3 lead going into the second quarter.
“We turned the ball over there at the beginning a few times,” Willis coach Angel Kelley said. “But I really didn’t think it was anything that they did to us. It was just us being so impatient and not just taking care of the ball.”
Down 23-12 midway through the second quarter, Willis went on a 9-2 run to trim the deficit to two points at the 1:03 mark. Off the bench, senior Mya Villarreal had five points in the run.
Garza made it 25-21 heading into halftime with a layup at the buzzer.
“We went in at halftime and made a good run after being down 12-3 at the end of the first quarter and we put ourselves back in it,” Kelly said. “We made some defensive changes and put ourselves back in the game. It was pretty good.”
The Ladykats struggled on offense again in the third quarter as New Caney went on a 16-0 run. Willis went 0 for 6 on three trips to the free-throw line before junior A’miya King made a 3-pointer with 47 seconds left in the quarter as New Caney led 41-24.
Willis totaled just six points in the first and third quarter combined and had 34 in the second and fourth quarters.
“We came back out in the third quarter just flat,” Kelley said. “We just had difficulty scoring. We finally were able their at the end of the third quarter and the fourth quarter we played them even.”
Willis won the fourth quarter 16-15 as New Caney took the 16-point win. New Caney won the earlier meeting between the two schools on Dec. 3 by 15 points.
Just like the previous game — a 70-48 win at Porter on Friday — New Caney had three players in double figures. Garza led with 24, senior Abigail Lynch had 15 and junior Micha Mize totaled 10 points.
“We’re beyond excited,” Mize said of this season’s success so far. “But the thing is, yes, we want to go to the playoffs. That’s definitely a goal of ours. But we’re taking it one game at a time. We don’t want to look too far out and lose night on who’s next.
“Right now, we took care of Willis tonight so we come back tomorrow and we worry about Huntsville.”
New Caney has achieved a lot considering just eight players dressed against Willis.
“It’s been pretty tough,” Mize said. “We’ve got three or four girls who play the entire game. They don’t get a break. The ones that are in don’t want to come out either. It kind of works to our advantage, but sometimes it’s a disadvantage. Shooting-wise tonight, we didn’t do real well. We need to get that little break, build their confidence back up and get them back on the court.”
New Caney hosts Huntsville Friday at 7 p.m.
For Willis, senior TeTe Hollis had 12 points while fellow senior Jasmine Kelly added nine. Kelly is the leading scoring for Willis at 10.2 points per game.
The Ladykats, a playoff team last year, has seen their margin of error for making a return trip shrink in recent weeks. They have lost three straight district games and lost seven of eight games overall dating back to the end of December.
“We’ve talked about just taking care of ourselves and taking care of business,” Kelley said. “Making sure we take care of the ones we need to take care of. Obviously we were hoping to get a big win tonight. But New Caney came out ready to play. We struggled a little bit scoring in those couple of quarters. We’ll re-group tomorrow and head into our next game with Porter.”
The game with the Lady Spartans is on the road at 7 p.m.