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Girls basketball: Atascocita’s season ends in regional semifinal

February 25, 2019

Atascocita’s season came to an end Friday night after a deep playoff run.

The Lady Eagles lost a 45-44 decision to Westside in the Region III-6A semifinal game at the Merrell Center.

Despite the loss, coach Veronica Johnson reminded her team after the game what a great season the Lady Eagles had. Atascocita surpassed 30 wins and completed an undefeated district title.

“I told them to keep their heads up,” Johnson said. “We had a great season, and nobody ever expected us to be back here in the regional semifinal again. We just have to keep working to get back here next year. We will be back in the gym Monday preparing for next year. This was a very special group, especially this senior group.”

The Lady Eagles end the season 31-8.

Atascocita had the ball with 13.1 seconds left in the game and a chance to win and advance to the regional final against district foe Summer Creek.

The Lady Eagles got a good shot off, but it didn’t fall and Westside picked up the rebound to seal their victory.

Atascocita never led in the game and got off to a slow start in the first quarter.

“We just didn’t capitalize on anything,” Johnson said. We couldn’t finish under the basket and didn’t shoot well from the free throw line. We were doing those two things great coming into the game. Things just didn’t quite go our way.”

The Lady Eagles started their comeback at the end of the second quarter.

Atascocita went on a 7-0 run with baskets from Kyleigh McGuire, Elyssa Coleman and a 3-pointer from Brittney Stafford. The Lady Eagles went into halftime trailing Westside by five points.

Both teams battled back and forth in the third quarter, but Westside outscored Atascocita 16-13 in the quarter.

Stafford walked off the court for the last time wearing the Atascocita red and couldn’t be more proud, she said.

“My teammates are my family,” Stafford said. “They’re my ride or die family and are always there when everything fails. They’re there in practices even when it’s not a good practice. They aren’t going anywhere for me. I will always remember them for the great memories we have had.”

The Lady Eagles will say goodbye to seniors Stafford, Hayden Morin, Alaina Ferrier, Monica Ayaber, Mary Domain and Shaniya Klauser.

This group of seniors were freshman when Johnson arrived at Atascocita in her first season.

“I told this group of seniors that I wouldn’t have wanted this moment with any other group,” Johnson said. “These kids bought in since Day One. Brittney Stafford was a freshman on varsity, and I knew the kid was going to be special. She brought in and she knew what I wanted to do. It’s kind of like a football coach and a quarterback really. The seniors talked about in July about leaving a legacy here. To have back-to-back undefeated championships was huge and making it to the regional semifinal again for the second straight year is not easy to do. I couldn’t be any prouder of this group of seniors and this team.”

Stafford appreciates Johnson for giving her an opportunity to be the floor general for Atascocita.

“She means everything, and I mean that when I say that,” Stafford said. She’s a coach, friend, sometimes a teammate. She’s given me the opportunity as a freshman to grow with her to learn her way and just be that true point guard that she’s been looking for. To me it means the world that she gave me a chance.”

Atascocita will return post players Coleman, McGuire and several young guards.

In four years Johnson has guided the Lady Eagles to back-to-back district titles and two straight appearances at the regional tournament.

“The young eagles have seen what it takes to get here and know that you have to work hard. Even these juniors know what kind of work ethic it’s going to take to get back next year. The foundation has been set, and we’re going to continue to grow and continue to work.”

marcus.gutierrez@chron.com