BASKETBALL ROUNDUP: First-year head coach has May girls contending for district title

Mike Lee
Special to the Brownwood Bulletin
Basketball on court

Derek Stevens is enjoying quite a ride in his first season as a head girls basketball coach. His May Lady Tigers, No. 9 in this week’s Class 1A statewide rankings, are 17-3 overall and 6-1 in District 13-1A after Tuesday’s 28-26 win over the No. 6-ranked Eula Lady Pirates.

If May and Eula (14-6, 6-1) win their final three district games, the two Top 10 teams will share the district title and play a third time for the No. 1 playoff seed.

Even though this is Stevens’ first season as head coach, he was May’s assistant coach for the previous five seasons. And since May sometimes is placed in the same district as Eula, he was well versed in their hotly contested series.

“When we play Eula, it’s intense the whole time,” Stevens said Wednesday. “They are always close games that could go either way. We both take a lot of pride in our girls basketball.

“In (Tuesday’s) game, they led by one point at the end of the first quarter, we led by one at halftime, and it was tied at the end of the third quarter. We were a basket better at the end of the game this time.”

Stevens enjoys a rare luxury in Class 1A with five senior starters this season in point guard Reese Chambers, Lexi Fox and Hannah McKenzie, along with forwards Roberta Robinette and Melanie Murphree. May’s eight-player rotation also includes juniors Brianna Steele and Sophie Lord, plus sophomore Korlei King.

“I’ve coached these girls since junior high. I’ve seen them grow up,” Stevens said. “Reese Chambers and Roberta Robinette drive the team, but everyone does their part. They’re a completely selfless group. One may be the top scorer one game, and another may be the next game.”

There’s another thing about May’s current seniors: They’ve won district every year entering their senior season.

They survived a major scare Jan. 15 at district rival Cross Plains, which led May by 12 points in the first half. During the fourth quarter, Chambers and Robinette fouled out, and Steele was forced out of the game with an injury. Still, the Lady Tigers pulled out a 46-45 victory.

“They showed a lot of grit in finding a way to win that game,” Stevens said. “That game may have been the turning point in our season. They showed a lot of heart and determination.”

Prior to district, May posted double-digit wins over Class 3A Comanche, 2A Goldthwaite and De Leon, and District 18-1A leader Priddy. All three of May’s losses have been to state-ranked teams: 2A Lipan, 1A Iredell and, of course, 1A Eula.

“Being head coach this year, I feel more responsibility and pressure to make sure I’ve done everything for the girls to have a chance to succeed,” Stevens said. “I love the competition. I’d rather be stressed and competing than do a 9-to-5 job.”

The competitor in the 37-year-old Stevens originated as a football and baseball player in Wills Point, about 45 minutes east of Dallas. He arrived in Brown County as a free safety on the Howard Payne University football team from 2001-2004.

He wanted to become a coach, but figured it would be at a larger 11-man school. But Stevens ended up coaching six-man football — first around the area at Gustine and Sidney. Later, when he wanted to get back to this area, the only opportunity was as a girls coach at May.

“I had never coached girls sports before,” said Stevens, who also helps coach football. “But I’ve got a young daughter, and I guess I always knew I wanted to coach her someday. So I thought I might as well start coaching girls now.

“Football will always be my first love, but basketball is starting to grow on me. I really enjoy it. I’m pretty happy.”

Around the area

The Brownwood Lions upended No. 25-ranked Lampasas 69-56 Tuesday, forcing a three-way tie for second place in District 6-4A with Stephenville and Lampasas. All three teams are 2-2 at the halfway point of the district schedule. Against Lampasas, Bryson Monroe scored 20 points and Christian Kinzler added 19 for the Lions, who took control with a 12-0 run in the third quarter. Brownwood (11-8 overall) will open the second half of district Friday at Gatesville.

The Brownwood girls (8-13, 1-5 in District 6-4A) lost their fourth straight game Tuesday with a 62-40 loss to Lampasas. The loss dropped Brownwood into a fourth-place tie with Lampasas, and put the Lady Lions’ 11-year playoff streak in jeopardy. More tough news for the Lady Lions: Leading scorer and rebounder Tessa Goodwin missed Tuesday’s game with a concussion and may miss Friday’s home game against Gatesville.

The Priddy boys beat Blanket in last Friday’s meeting of District 18-1A leaders, but the Tigers rebounded Tuesday with a 53-33 win over Sidney. Tyler Simpson scored 36 points as Blanket improved to 6-2 in district and remained in line for the No. 2 playoff seed.

The Blanket girls, who recently had to forfeit four District 18-1A games because of a shortage of players, returned to action Tuesday, but fell 48-23 to Sidney. The Blanket girls are 2-7 in district.

Staying in 18-1A, the Priddy boys (7-0) and Priddy girls (9-0) are nearing an undefeated sweep of the district championships.

Class 3A Early and Bangs are experiencing the misfortune of being placed in a district with perennial powers Peaster and Brock from the Fort Worth area. On the boys side, No. 2-ranked Brock is 19-2 while No. 3 Peaster is 17-3. Peaster, coached by former Texas Tech player and assistant coach Bubba Jennings, has broken the 100-point mark four times in district this season.