Usually when teams announce their starting fives before the game, after each name is called the individual player runs out through a tunnel of teammates and cheerleaders to shake the hands of all three referees and the opposing coach. On Friday – senior night – the Lady Eagles went about announcing their starting five a little differently.
After each player had her name called, instead of running out one-by-one, they stood up off the bench and waited for the final name to be called. That final name in the starting five was senior Myla Canty.
Canty, who has a leg injury, has likely seen her season come to an end. Still, Eagles’ head coach Matthew Jackson made it so that Canty could be honored along with her fellow seniors on that special night. Canty, walking gingerly with a leg wrap traveling from her lower thigh to her high ankle, caught the pass from the tip-off and Jackson called timeout to allow Canty to give her teammates a hug and walk off the court gracefully to the applause of the crowd.
“We’re missing her presence,” Jackson said, speaking of Canty. “She was a big integral part of the team. She provided rebounds and some toughness so it was a real, real special moment. She’s a very heady young girl and so I’m proud of her. She has a bright future ahead she wants to go to college and do well, so I’m very, very proud.”
It was senior night, the final regular season home game for many of the players. Senior Lady Eagles other than Canty had themselves a night to remember. The other four seniors: Deja Saintillus, Taylor Jones, Tierra Smith and Raynesha Clay came up big for Eastside, especially Jones and Smith.
With the game tied at 18 late in the second quarter, Eastside’s defense stepped up and forced three-straight turnovers that led to six points off layups for Smith. Then with the clock winding down in the first half, the Walnut Grove defense left Smith open at the free throw line and she drained a jumper to beat the buzzer.
“I was real proud of her in the second quarter and at the end of the first half. She gave us a big lift, her and also Taylor Jones,” Jackson said. “Taylor Jones got out there and we were down. I think we were down by four and they had the momentum and then Taylor came in there and she was able to hit those clutch jumpers so we could kind of gain some momentum. Then like you said [Tierra Smith] just took over. If both of them can maintain and do those types of things on a more consistent basis to help out our main scorers Janelle Cook and Teirra Brown we’ll be fine.”
Eastside struggled early in the first half, committing multiple turnovers and it carried over into the second half. Up 30-20 in the third, the Eagles let the Lady Warriors back into the game.
“I think that was because we were trying too hard. It being senior night, you got a lot of pressure on you and when you’re in that spotlight and the crowd is here. Mom and dad are here, so that’s a lot of pressure,” Jackson said. “A lot of time you try too much and not only are the seniors like that, the whole team wanted that for the seniors. A lot of turnovers. Still, inexcusable, but it is still a lot of pressure.”
The Lady Warriors went on a 12-0 run to take a lead before the Lady Eagles settled down and got the lead back at 40-39 going into the fourth quarter.
Again, like they’ve done for most of the year, Eastside took over the game defensively. A turnover led to a layup by Clay, who finished with 14 points, to give the Lady Eagles a 53-47 lead they would never relinquish.
“We couldn’t put ‘em away. So we battled back and forth and I was very, very proud of our resiliency. Just to be able to withstand their push. So we’re just going back and forth and thank God we had the lead to finally pull away,” Jackson said.
The win pretty much solidifies Eastside as the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, but the Lady Eagles will face Henry County – which is undefeated in the region – on Tuesday and could build momentum heading into the region tournament.