From the look of things two weeks into the new season, the basketball programs at Melbourne High School are back on solid footing after slipping from their usual high standards last year.
Winners of just three games all last season, the Lady Bearkatz (5-1, 2-0 2AA-North) have already topped that mark, and with a 39-36 win over the Sloan-Hendrix Lady Greyhounds Nov. 8, a team that was favored to challenge for the conference crown this year, Melbourne sent a message to the rest of the 2AA-North; beware of the Lady Katz.
The Bearkatz, too, saw tough times last season, finishing last in the 2AA-North with just four wins. However, it appears Melbourne is making up for lost time in 2005 with three wins under its belt, including a victory over the tough Norfork Panthers. The Bearkatz' improvement continued Nov. 8 as Melbourne battled Sloan-Hendrix hard, before the Greyhounds, who were runners-up in the district tournament last year, edged past Melbourne (2-3, 1-1) late, 59-52, at the Bearkatz Den.
In the Lady Katz' tilt with Sloan-Hendrix, Melbourne had a strong showing in the paint, and that was without Jackie Wommack, a starter on the low blocks last year, out with a knee injury.
Abby Cooper (10 points, six boards, two steals) tossed in four points in the first period to help lock the game at 7-all with 2:09 left in the frame.
With a chance to break away late, the Lady Bearkatz could manage only one free throw in six attempts in the last two minutes of the first, as the Lady Greyhounds moved ahead 10-8 heading into the second period.
Melbourne fell behind by four, 18-14, before Autumn Henry (seven points) canned a trey to pull the Lady Katz within one, 18-17, at intermission.
The third period was equally tight, as Sloan-Hendrix knocked in six unanswered points before Melbourne responded with a couple of hoops to trail by four, 27-23, heading into the final frame.
Getting some timely hoops from the perimeter and the paint, the Lady Katz, who led briefly at the start of the third, pulled ahead to stay late in the fourth.
Down 29-27 with 5:25 left in the game, Cooper hit a free throw and Whitney Wommack (five boards) broke free for a layup to push the Lady Bearkatz on top 30-29.
Holly Miller then drained a huge triple and Olivia Morris sank a couple of tough shots in the lane that boosted Melbourne's lead to five. Morris paced the Lady Bearkatz with a 12-point, 12-rebound double-double.
Sloan-Hendrix pulled within three, 37-34, with 1:18 left on the clock, but Henry and Cooper each hit a free throw to seal Melbourne's impressive six-point victory over the Lady Greyhounds.
Brittni Washington tossed in five points for the Lady Bearkatz.
On the boys' side of things, the Bearkatz came up a bit short, despite an outstanding effort from the Bearkatz' freshman post player, Garrett Batterton.
Batterton tossed in a team-high 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds against the Greyhounds.
The Katz started off a bit sluggish and fell behind 11-2 midway into the first period.
Jesse Jenkins (13 points, three boards) stopped Sloan-Hendrix from running away by busting a triple at the 2:40 mark. Batterton added his first hoop of the night, and Melbourne, who could never quite get over the hump to hold a lead on the night, trailed 13-7 after one.
Using a 6-0 run to start the second, the Greyhounds jumped on top 19-7, requiring a 3-ball from Melbourne's Corey Dale to stop the damage.
Kyle Taylor (nine points) went on a personal 5-zip run midway into the second that narrowed the Greyhounds' lead to 27-15.
Halftime came with Sloan-Hendrix in front 29-21.
Batterton had a big third period, canning 10 points in the frame, as Melbourne edged within three points, 36-33, with 3:56 showing on the clock.
Despite a rare 4-point play from Jenkins, the Greyhounds used a couple of triples to stay in front, 47-41 heading into the final period.
The first five minutes of the fourth were not kind to Melbourne, with the Katz going scoreless during that stretch while Sloan-Hendrix extended its margin to 51-41.
Melbourne advanced the fourth-period scoreboard for the first time on a Taylor trifecta at the 2:53 mark, and a layup by Michael Lunsford (six points) with 23 ticks left drew the Bearkatz within four, 56-52.
That's where Melbourne's bid for a win ended, with the Greyhounds holding on to post a 59-52 2AA-North victory.
Chase Moser tallied three points for Melbourne, while Logan Barnes added two.
The Bearkatz jumped back into the win column Nov. 11 by sliding past Calico Rock (2-5) 57-54 in 2AA-North play behind 24 points from Jenkins.
Tony Vredenburg led the Pirates with 14 points.