BY DENNIS SILVA II | email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Junior center Eddie Lampkin had a tough time choosing which pass of his was his most favorite: a high-low, quick bullet pass to a cutting teammate or a behind-the-back pass to another teammate moments later.
Junior guard LJ Cryer was impressed with his team’s energy. Junior guard Westley Sellers emphasized teamwork and leadership.
Friday’s 81-58 win over Taylor wasn’t just another game for No. 17 state-ranked Morton Ranch. It secured the program’s first district championship. Still, it was a loose, fun contest for the Mavericks, complete with smiles, playful celebration with teammates and laughs. A significant step forward for a program that has grown leaps and bounds in a relatively short period of time.
This, after all, was what Lampkin, Cryer and Sellers had been working for since stepping onto campus three years ago.
Two seasons after missing the playoffs entirely and a season after missing a share of the district title by one game, Morton Ranch continued its fast rise as one of the state’s finest programs, improving to 25-6 and 11-0 in District 19-6A.
“It’s a big accomplishment, especially because we’ve never done it before,” said Cryer, the face of the program who tallied another effortless stat-line of 28 points and eight assists. “I felt like our energy tonight was higher than any other game, and we have to learn to play every game like that if we want to go to state.”
State has indeed been the talk of the Mavericks all season. But to get there, they knew a district title was to be had.
“It’s big,” said Sellers, who had five points and seven assists. “When we first got here, the school wasn’t used to winning a lot. We got here and we really put in the work. Every year, we get better and better. It’s paid off.”
It didn’t come easily.
Morton Ranch led Taylor 39-35 at halftime, as the Mustangs managed to stay close with a slew of 3-pointers that exposed the Mavericks’ zone. But the second half was an entirely different story. As has been the case more often than not this season, Morton Ranch’s athleticism, speed and a tougher commitment to pressure defense won out.
The Mavericks outscored the Mustangs 42-23 in the second half. Cryer drilled 2 of 5 3s, scored a few acrobatic layups and handed out a handful of assists. Lampkin was a towering force with 20 points and 10 rebounds, most of that coming in the second half, but it was his five assists that dazzled late, including a behind-the-back beauty to a cutting Cryer late in the fourth quarter.
“He’s the best big in our district, probably the best big in the state,” Cryer said. “We expect that from him.”
Morton Ranch did what it probably would have had trouble doing last season—finishing off a pesky opponent in dominant fashion.
“Everybody’s locked in,” Lampkin said. “When we went to Dallas, for the Whataburger Tournament, we realized we could go to state. We saw the best of the best. We learned we can’t slack off. We have to work hard and be together. Now, whether it’s at practice or the film room, we’re out here doing our best.”
Serenaded by chants of “Coach of the Year!” Morton Ranch coach Khris Turner had trouble finding an argument.
“Since they’ve been here, it’s been the talk,” the third-year head coach said his star trio’s pursuit of a district title. “They knew at some point it would happen. They were confident about it. They’ve finally gelled and come together. When you have all these new additions we’ve had, it can take a while to bond. Once they figured out how to play with each other, the rest has been history.”
Turner, a young head coach who has been impressive in managing the complex personalities and skills of a roster loaded with elite talent, sees a team that trusts each other. He sees a team that is fun and listens. He sees a team that has quality depth for the first time in a long time.
He sees a core in Lampkin, Cryer and Sellers that holds others accountable, especially themselves.
And, yes, Turner said, the Mavericks can afford to be more patient on defense. That is a work in progress. But for right now, he and his players like what they see.
“Teamwork is the biggest thing with us,” Sellers said. “We might get at each other, but we’re just trying to make each other better and it shows out there on the court. LJ, Eddie, myself … we took a leadership role as soon as we got here, coming from junior high where we were used to winning. We planned on winning sooner or later, and right now it’s sooner than later.”