The Lady Mustang basketball team concluded their season Feb. 14 after a second-round appearance in the 3A district tournament. The team finished 5-9 in conference and 9-16 overall, but head coach Steve Quattlebaum said it was one of his most favorite seasons of basketball yet.
“A lot of those kids haven’t experienced a lot of seasons like they had this year,” he said. “The seniors are a great example. When they were in 9th grade, they won the conference, went 17-3 and won the district tournament. This season, they just persevered and stayed with it… They did a good job handling adversity.”
Three seniors led the team this year — Livian Burton, Carleigh Petlak and Riley Bryant.
“Riley did a great job all year having to score a lot,” Quattlebaum said. “She’s a great team leader.. Livian is a great kid, and she gave a lot of effort and has really improved since junior high. She’s just gotten better and better every year. I’ve only had one other player that could affect the outcome of the game as much as Carleigh can on defense. She’s just one of the best defensive players I’ve ever had.”
The season was full of ups and downs. Petlak experienced an injury during the team’s game against Pulaski Academy in November that Quattlebaum said many athletes would have let end their seasons.
“There are a lot of kids who would have used that and said, ‘I’m probably done for the rest of the year, I don’t want that to happen again, and we’re not going to win a lot of games,’” he said. “But she came back, and she was a big difference maker for us playing defense.”
The season also came with exciting wins, high-energy home crowds, and moments Coach Quattlebaum said he was proud to witness, like the team’s Thanksgiving game at Jasper Nov. 21.
“I think we played a three-overtime game,” he remembered. “When we were struggling to score over 40 points, we scored 78 points. It was just after Carleigh had gotten hurt, and another player was sick and couldn’t make the trip. We only had seven people. We stopped in Clinton to practice, and then the kids just competed so hard that game. And then they got beat in overtime, but they didn’t let it bother them. They came back and kept working.”
Senior Night Feb. 9 came with a 58-52 victory against Baptist Prep, a win Quattlebaum said he saw his team work really hard for. The Lady Mustangs had to face Baptist Prep in their very next game in the first round of the district tournament Feb. 13 and earned a 51-38 win.
“Jaden Smith — I was really proud of her in that game,” he said. “She scored like 11 points in the fourth quarter and hit a couple of really big shots. It’s hard to turn around and play a team like that.”
Dover came up next in the second round of district. After two losses to Dover in regular conference play, Quattlebaum said their goal was to establish an early lead and put the pressure on Dover to play from behind.
“The last time we played them over there, we were down 18 points going into the fourth quarter. We cut it back to six but just couldn’t finish it off,” he said. “We haven’t played in this tough of a conference in a long time.”
By the end of the season, Quattlebaum said he could see a clear improvement in everyone’s game. The theme for the year was “continue to keep working and continue to get better.”
“It’s fun to win state championships, and that’s great, but I enjoyed this year about as much as any year I’ve had coaching because they were such great kids,” Quattlebaum said. “They always got along well and they were very coachable, so I thought it was a successful year.”