It was just one district game, but the atmosphere produced by both crowds and the effort displayed by each team suggested otherwise.
District rivals Era and Muenster split their season series last year, so when both teams hit the court in Muenster on Tuesday, Jan. 14, the importance of the first of two scheduled tilts oozed with every dribble of the basketball and swish of the net.
With district-title ramifications on the line, it was defending champion Era that flexed its veteran muscles.
Led by senior guard Briana Knabe’s waves offense and defense along with 32 points, the Lady Hornets landed several body blows in the first and third quarters on the way to a crucial 47-36 victory.
Last season, Era dropped the road tilt at Muenster, but not Tuesday. Era head coach Don Neu said he knew the game would be a heavyweight fight.
“I told the kids that we scheduled a tough schedule this year for these situations and I feel like tonight, it paid off,” Neu said. “We have to play them again and they’re going to be tough the second time too. It was just two good teams playing basketball. It was a great atmosphere and it’s a home-court advantage for sure. I tell you what, Muenster is a good team. They’ve got a good coach, they play tough, they run their stuff well, but I thought we played tough defense tonight.”
Relentlessly knifing her way to the rim, Knabe was consistent from start to finish, posting 16 points in the first half and 16 in the second half.
Neu said he could tell the senior was ready to play.
Era, which improved to 17-8 and 2-0 in district play with the win, took a 12-6 lead in the first quarter on the shoulders of seven first-quarter points from Knabe and five points from Sandra Christian, who finished the game with 13 points.
“[Knabe] was getting us in our offense and was our floor leader,” Neu said. “She and Sandra on the floor, they’ve been there and done that.”
Maddie Chisum scored Era’s other two points, but Neu said the entire team came together for a complete victory.
“They handled themselves very, very well and it was great for the younger players’ future,” Neu said. “Our post players did a great job. They don’t score a lot, but defensively, they did a great job. We scored off steals and got into transition.”
Era carried a 24-17 lead to halftime and used a 12-7 edge in the third quarter to take a 36-24 lead, but Neu and the Lady Hornets didn’t relax.
They absorbed a short run by Muenster to begin the fourth quarter, but it could never get within striking distance to overtake Era.
“I knew it wasn’t over,” Neu said. “I told them that we had to extend the lead. They went on a run and cut it to like six points and it was getting scary. All of them showed great poise. Every one of them contributed in one way or another. Muenster did a lot of things I thought they would do, but they’ll adjust and tweak and it will be a battle next time we play.”
Neu was satisfied with Era’s defensive work, but recognized the offense still has room to improve.
“I thought defensively that was one of our better games, but offensively, we need to execute better,” Neu said.
Era and Muenster will rematch Jan. 31, but for now, this was a nice feather in Era’s cap as they continue the first half of its district slate.
“Everybody knew it was a big game, but I tried to approach it as this was district game number two and we’ve got to keep moving,” Neu said. “We’ve got a big game against Alvord coming up and Alvord can play.”
Patrick Hayslip can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @PatrickHayslip