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Van Alstyne comes up short against Melissa

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Van Alstyne's Blake Skipworth drives against Melissa's Tavenor Watts during District 9-4A action in Melissa. The Cardinals held on for the victory over VA.

MELISSA — The Panthers had acquitted themselves nicely to their new district in a new classification, opening the 9-4A slate with a pair of victories.

But the early results in the district were full of close contests and it was only a matter of time before Van Alstyne found itself in a battle down to the wire.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, they spent almost all of the second half playing from behind and came up short as Melissa defeated Van Alstyne, 72-69, in District 9-4A action.

“There seems to be some parity in the district,” Van Alstyne head coach Russell Best said. “We knew moving up to 4A, it wasn’t going to be the way it was the last two years (a 23-1 record in 10-3A play)”

Carson Brown scored 27 points, J.J. Boling had 18 points, Blake Skipworth chipped in nine points, all in the second half, and Nathan Henley totaled eight points for Van Alstyne (7-8, 2-1), which plays at Celina on Tuesday.

Phoenix Bramhall scored 22 points, Thabani Ndhlukula had all nine of his points in the second half, Skyler Smith chipped in eight points and Justin Maina and Hudson Czarnecki each finished with seven points for Melissa (7-6, 3-1), which plays at Aubrey on Tuesday.

Bramhall may have been the only Cardinal in double figures but seven others scored at least five points.

The Panthers had a couple of chances to at least force overtime in the final minutes. They were down 63-59 after Brown converted a three-point-play but Maina then hit a pair of free throws with 1:37 to go.

Brown followed with a three-pointer to make it a three-point deficit with 1:14 remaining. VA then allowed Melissa to burn 34 seconds off the clock before fouling and Bramhall missed the 1-and-1 free throw.

The Cardinals managed a steal on the ensuing possession and Bramhall scored on a drive with 26 seconds on the clock but it was a 67-65 game after Tom Fowler’s three from the right corner.

Maina, who scored all seven of his points at the free-throw line, nailed both attempts with 19 seconds left. Boling quickly got to the hoop and it was back to a two-point margin with 12 seconds showing. Boling was then given a technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct instead of a delay of game warning following his basket and Maina connected on both foul shots.

The Cardinals retained possession and Bramhall hit another free throw to push the lead to five and render Henley’s basket at the buzzer meaningless.

All that came after Melissa went up by nine with 3:29 remaining. VA had trimmed the margin to four twice before Ndhlukula drilled a three and then scored underneath to make it 61-52.

The third quarter was a tight battle before Melissa’s late push gave the home team a 49-42 advantage heading to the final eight minutes.

Early on the teams traded threes — Brown hit a pair that were answered by Smith and then Bramhall, who later converted a three-point play only for Skipworth to match the total from beyond the arc on the ensuing possession.

Boling’s three, the sixth combined in the quarter, tied the game at 42 with 1:03 to go in the third.

But Ndhlukula scored on a putback, Czarnecki made a three-pointer and then Tavenor Watts tipped in a three-point attempt from half-court by Czarnecki at the buzzer for seven straight points from Melissa.

“Third-quarter wasn’t good,” Best said. “We could have done a little bit better controlling the clock near the end of the third.”

Van Alstyne battled back in the second quarter to enter half-time tied at 27.

The Cardinals were up seven when the Panthers had a 7-0 burst that was started on a three-point play by Henley to tie the game at 19. But Van Alstyne could never take the lead before the break.

It looked like the Cardinals would carry their slim advantage into the locker room but VA held the ball for almost the final minute and then Boling hit a three from the left wing at the buzzer to pull the Panthers even.

Melissa jumped out to an 11-2 lead midway through the first thanks in part to three-pointers from Bramhall and Watts.

Boling ended VA’s scoring drought with a three-pointer and Kade Ramer followed with a layup. But the Panthers made only one basket in the final three minutes of the first quarter — a three- from Brown with 57 seconds to go — and it was a 15-10 Melissa advantage.

District 9-4A

Melissa                       72

Van Alstyne                69