By TONY EIERDAM
Sometimes it takes a high school basketball coach several games of non-district play to find the players who work well together, set rotations and establish a defensive philosophy.
For the Mineral Wells Rams, who will begin District 6-3A play today at home against the Fort Worth Diamond Hill Eagles, they found their “defensive identity” in the final non-district game last week.
The Rams and Lady Rams will play the first district doubleheader of the season today at the MWHS gym.
The Lady Rams and Lady Eagles will tip off at 6:30 p.m. today followed by the Rams/Eagles contest at approximately 8 p.m. at the MWHS gym.
The Rams will bring a 9-7 record into the contest.
Head coach Aaron Pappas said last week’s win in the non-district finale over Bridgeport gave the Rams confidence on both ends of the floor, but it was a commitment to a man-to-man defense for the entire game that helped the team defensively, which led to instant offense.
“The team is playing really well now on both ends of the floor,”Pappas said.”We have been searching for an identity defensively, and (against Bridgeport) we stuck with what we thought was going to be our defense at the beginning of the year.
“This makes me very excited, and I feel overall, from top to bottom, offensively and defensively. Offensively we are scoring at a higher pace.
“We are scoring from the perimeter as well as the paint and are being more physical on the defensive end and contesting every shot.
“But I thought (against Bridgeport) we played the best defense by far as we have all year.
“We played our half-court man the entire game, and we didn’t have to switch to a zone.
“We didn’t have to press, it was just bread-and-butter man-to-man defense.
“Everyone stayed with their guy. Bridgeport has three or four guys who shoot the three well, and we had to play that old, almost Little Dribblers man-to-man defense where you stay with your man with not a lot of help.
“Our last win against Bridgeport was a confidence builder heading into district play.
“It is always nice get a win heading into district.”
The Lady Rams are coming into the contest with an undefeated record, 2-0, in 6-3A play. They will take on an 0-2 Lady Eagles’ quad.
Head coach Leslie Holman said she has enjoyed the aggressiveness the team has displayed on offense.
“I like the way our girls are looking to drive to the basket to score,” she said. “We have done that well in our first two district games and will need to continue that (today).”
Pappas feels state-ranked No. 2 Kennedale, last year’s district champion, should be considered the front runner this season.
“Our district is going to be challenging with the likes of Kennedale,” he said. “They are 18-0 going into district play, and are the No. 2 team in (Class 3A) right now.
“They have to be the favorite to win the district.
“After Kennedale, it is a toss-up for second, third and fourth place in the district.”
Pappas said his team will have to stay focused in each and every district game and can’t count any game as “a sure win.”
“We are going to have to play well the next 10 games to secure a playoff spot,” Pappas said. “We cannot afford to take any team in the district for granted.
“I think last year we learned that the hard way when we traveled to Diamond Hill and trailed at halftime by 13 points.
“Diamond Hill is a very scrappy team and if they are hitting their shots can be very tough to beat.
“Luckily, we are playing at home and hopefully our crowd will get us energized from the opening tip.
“Our players are ready and willing to do whatever it takes to earn a trip back to the playoffs, and it starts (today)against Diamond Hill.”