The basketball equivalent of the Battle of the Ax hasn’t been much of a battle in recent seasons, especially on the girls’ side.

The basketball equivalent of the Battle of the Ax hasn’t been much of a battle in recent seasons, especially on the girls’ side.

But nevertheless, both head coaches — Sherman’s Beth Tallant and Denison’s Rod Been — expect their charges to play hard and for pride tonight when the Lady Bearcats travel north to face the Lady Yellow Jackets for the second time this season at 6:30 p.m.

Sherman (10-11, 5-3) comes in once again as a heavy favorite, but Tallant has the big picture in mind for her team, which sits tied for third place in District 13-4A and in excellent playoff shape.

"We go in and take care of ourselves," Tallant said. "Our district is so widely separated between those who are going to make the playoffs and those who aren’t. We just need to worry about us and work in a positive direction."

The first time the two local archrivals met on Dec. 13, both teams were facing schedule chaos because of the ice storm of the week before. But that didn’t stop the Lady Cats from cruising to a 73-40 win at Bearcat Gymnasium, with four Sherman players reaching double figures.

Coming off a 28-point home loss to McKinney North on Tuesday night, Tallant is looking for a more intense effort. Against Denison, that shouldn’t be a problem.

"Against McKinney North our weaknesses were exposed, and I want us to work on our weaknesses (tonight)," Tallant said. "We did a decent job defending, but not rebounding. That’s where (North) beat us. Defense and rebounding win championships, and we didn’t rebound. We’re going to focus on boxing out."

Denison (3-13, 1-7) bounced back from the December loss at Sherman with a 48-42 victory over Royse City, and subsequently followed with an overtime win at Anna on Dec. 30. But a difficult run of opponents in the new year has kept the Lady Jackets down.

"I’m proud of the team; they’ve been cohesive in spite of their record," Been said. "It’s a testament to how far we’ve slipped and how far we’ve got to go. The teams we’re playing against are good. We didn’t close out our game at Greenville (on Jan. 7), but we’re making steps in the right direction. Our younger kids realize that it’s going to take a lot of hard work. Winning is our goal."

The Lady Jackets have at least been getting some scoring balance lately, with Tamara Gisendaner and Bailey Nixon scoring 10 points each and Sarah McBride adding nine in Tuesday’s 63-37 loss at Wylie East. In fact, Nixon has scored in double figures in each of Denison’s last six contests.

"Bailey’s really playing well," Been said. "She draws the best defenders and still finds a way to get 10 points. She moves well with the ball in her hand. She’s a kid that’s really come around, and if anybody has bought in, she has."

Meanwhile, with only 10 players being carried on varsity, the Lady Cats have been playing with a very short bench the last couple of weeks.

Freshman post Heather Hinkley, who scored 11 points the first time around against Denison, is out with a knee injury, and Dalea Myles, another freshman post, is hobbled by an ankle sprain.

That means long stretches of playing time for the five Lady Cat seniors — Sa’Liesha Hunter, Jayzhia Softly, J’Lyn Wash, Brandy Higgs and Brelyn Keys — as well as underclassmen Mary Kate Motley, Emily Kirkpatrick and Kristen Gittens.

"Some of the girls are having to play more minutes than they’re used to," Tallant said. "But we don’t make excuses. Everyone has to be ready to play for 32 minutes."

The Lady Cats are closing in on a return to the postseason, but more important battles lie ahead, starting with Tuesday night’s game against Wylie East, which shares third place with Sherman at the moment. A win on Tuesday would give the Lady Cats a series sweep and the tiebreaker advantage over East.

"We feel good about (playoffs), but I don’t want the girls being satisfied with where they are," Tallant said. "We need to focus on seeding and getting ourselves a better position when we get in the playoffs. I don’t want to be satisfied."