The start of the girls basketball playoffs are still three months away, but preparing for the postseason is a year-round mindset for coaches and players.
Though the 2021-2022 campaign is still in its infancy, every time a team takes the court is considered a measuring stick toward where it wants to be.
That is especially the case when a game involves a potential first-round playoff opponent, which was the case on Tuesday when 9-6A’s Rowlett hosted 10-6A’s Mesquite.
The game was tight for the better part of three quarters, but it was the Skeeters who were able to make the plays they needed to down the stretch to claim a 52-41 victory in a non-district contest at Rowlett High School.
Mesquite improves to 3-0 on the young season, while the Eagles fall to 1-2 as both head into tournament play later this week.
Sanaa Darensburg paced the Skeeters with 15 points and they also held a decided edge on the boards, particularly on the offensive end, with Kayriona Brown pulling down 14 rebounds and Azhia Young adding eight.
Rowlett countered behind its pressure defense, which helped spark a couple of key runs, as well as Riana Carter’s 13 points.
Though Mesquite led for the bulk of the first three quarters, the Eagles were never far behind, and there were four lead changes during the first 24 minutes, with the Skeeters taking a slim 34-32 advantage into the final frame.
Mesquite got early buckets from Zoe Brown, Kayriona Brown and Kayloni Smolley to start the fourth, but Rowlett countered with a putback from Lyndi Bryan and a layup by Carter to stay within 40-36.
But the Eagles went cold for a three-minute stretch, missing four free throws along the way, and the Skeeters took advantage, as Darensburg hit 3-of-4 at the line and turned a steal into a layup as part of a 7-0 run to push the lead to 47-36 with 4:08 left.
Kristyn Galloway knocked down a 3-pointer for Rowlett to temporarily stem the tide, but that would be the last field goal for the Eagles, and when sent to the charity stripe, Smolley, Ky’leah Hill and Zoe Brown combined to knock down 5-of-6 free throws in the final two minutes to seal the win.
In addition to Darensburg, Kayriona Brown tallied eight points, Smolley had seven and Zoe Brown and Cori Brown each chipped in with six.
Rowlett also got eight points from Jordan Myers, six from Emma Rumore and five from Galloway.
Though both teams got off to slow shooting starts, the Skeeters did get baskets from Darensburg, Cori Brown and Young to jump to a 7-1 lead.
It took Rowlett more than five minutes to get a shot to go down when Myers sank a baseline jumper, but that helped get them going.
Though back-to-back inside buckets from Kayriona Brown gave Mesquite a 15-9 advantage early in the second quarter, the Eagles responded with a 10-3 run.
Carter hit a pair of free throws, Rumore converted two transition layups, Myers drained a 6-footer and Galloway sank a floater to give them their first lead at 19-18.
Mesquite responded, as a basket from J’miyah Harrison and two more from Cori Brown helped them take a 25-20 lead into halftime.
Down seven early in the third quarter, Rowlett again put together a run.
Carter was the catalyst, with a pair of inside scores sandwiched around a jumper from Haley Hicks. Carter then made two free throws and got free for a layup to give the Eagles a 30-29 led.
But that would be the last Rowlett advantage of the game.
Daresnburg scored the final five points of the third quarter for the Skeeters, and while Myers did close the gap to 33-32 on a runner, that was as close as it would get, as Mesquite was able to pull away down the stretch.