THE COLONY - This basketball season has been one of ups and downs for the Lady Broncos.
A win in any of Denton's several one- or two-point losses in District 4-4A play would have punched its postseason ticket, but instead it all came down to Friday night in a fourth-place play-in game against Little Elm.
Like their season, the Lady Broncos had ups and downs in the loser-go-home game, but ultimately failed to extend their best season in years as Little Elm topped Denton 53-48 to advance to the playoffs.
"I told them don't hang your heads because they've done so much to bring this program back," Denton head coach Dennis Krishka said as his team finished the season 20-13, just four years after posting a 4-28 mark. "Even though we came up short on some of our goals, to come to 20-13, it's been a long road. … I know they're disappointed. We all are. It's just one of those deals. Someone's got to lose, and today Little Elm played a little better."
It was the second straight time this season Little Elm has defeated Denton after the Lady Broncos took the first meeting in district play.
The Lady Broncos entered the game after a two-game stretch to close the regular season, which saw them shoot just 26-for-110 from the field. That trend continued in the first half on Friday as the Lady Lobos took a 24-18 lead into halftime thanks in large part to 15 first-half turnovers by Denton.
The second half was a completely different story, as Denton turned the ball over just four times and began to sink some shots, tying the game twice in the third quarter behind the play of Jasmine Taylor (17 points) and April Pena (seven points, five in the third quarter).
"I don't know if it's not being in that position before, but we were just scrambling around without any direction," said Krishka, who is still looking for a return trip to the postseason after a five-year drought, despite starting this season with an 11-0 record. "We told them at halftime to just slow down and slow themselves down. We didn't have to go 100 miles per hour, just play under control. We did a much better job of that in the second half."
But the Lady Lobos (12-18) also found some things to do better in the second half, namely hit their outside shots.
A team that usually lives by the 3-pointer, Little Elm was thrown off by a defensive adjustment from Krishka early in the game when he went from his usual man-to-man defense to a triangle-and-two.
Little Elm did not make as many 3-pointers as it usually does, but when the Lady Lobos hoisted the long-range shots, they always seemed to fall.
After Denton tied the game for the first time off a jumper from Pena, Little Elm senior guard Chelsea Savage, the team's leading scorer, hit a deep, uncontested 3-pointer to kill the sudden momentum shift to Denton's side.
A little more than a minute later, her teammate Lizzie Salerno hit another deep 3-pointer to give Little Elm a five-point advantage going into the final quarter.
"They hit some really big 3s, and from far out," Krishka said. "They hit big shots at big times and made big plays, and that's what it comes down to."
Savage hit another long-range 3-pointer to open the scoring in the fourth quarter, and Salerno iced the game when her shot from beyond the arc turned a three-point game into a six-point game with 2 1/2 minutes remaining.
"Salerno's [3-pointer] there down the stretch was huge and gave us a little cushion and made it a two-possession game," Little Elm head coach Derrick Osborne said.
Salerno's shots were huge, but the Lady Lobos were without question led by Savage, who finished the night with a game-high 21 points.
"She's been huge all year," Osborne said. "If she's not the MVP of the district, she's pretty close. We have three or four really good players here in this district, and I think she's right there with them."
She might have Krishka's vote.
"She hurts you in so many ways," Krishka said. "You don't guard her, she'll hit the 3-pointer. You guard her too tight, she's going to the rim, and if you foul her she's going to nail the free throws. She's really done a nice job for them."
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Little Elm 53, Denton 48
Denton 6 12 16 14 - 48
Little Elm 9 15 15 14 - 53
Denton (20-13) - Myesha Taylor 5, Le'Andra Johnson 2, April Pena 7, Jamecia Brown 8, Jasmine Taylor 17, Jacoiya Brown 9.
Little Elm (12-18) - Jazz Savage 3, Chelsea Savage 21, Lizzie Salerno 8, Jennifer Hargis 2, T'Keeyah Rush 13, Sarah Jameson 4.