In the last two seasons, the Rockport-Fulton High School (RFHS) Lady Pirate basketball team has been absent from the postseason.
After a long stretch of playoff appearances under former head coach Chris Bentley, RFHS failed to make the playoffs in the 2018-19 season with an overall record of 8-20.
Last season, RFHS finished with an overall record of 15-18, but failed to make the playoffs in a highly contested District 31-4A.
As for the 2020-21 Lady Pirates, they are currently riding a nine game win streak, hold an overall record of 12-4, and are 2-0 in the young district season.
RFHS is also doing all of this with a new head coach.
RFHS Head Girls Basketball Coach Morgan Hale is a former RFHS basketball player, class of 2012. Hale also played under the aforementioned Bentley, and was a part of the last Lady Pirate basketball team to win a district title in 2011; that team advanced all the way to the 3A State Semifinals.
After moving on to play college basketball at Arlington Baptist University, Hale found her way back home following a two-year stint as head girl’s basketball coach at Corpus Christi Miller.
Though young in experience as a head girl’s basketball coach, Hale has the Lady Pirates playing at a high level and her players have bought in quickly.
“We’ve always had coaches that were there for us in the past, but one thing I’ve noticed that’s a lot different is seeing the amount of effort she (Hale) puts in and the personal connections me and all the girls have made with her,” said RFHS team captain Kaylee Howell. “She’s younger, she tells us a lot about how college basketball was just three years ago. But the number one thing is she’s putting so much effort into us and it’s shown throughout the team.”
Hale said RFHS’ recent success has been a product of how well the team as a whole has been playing.
“Every game it’s someone else stepping up,” said Hale. “That’s what makes us so versatile and so good. If you’re trying to defend us, it’s someone different every time.”
Junior point guard Mikayla Molina, a three year starter, said the team has benefitted greatly from returning nearly every player from a year ago.
“By only losing one person last year, we’ve all stayed the same for this season,” said Molina. “And I think we’re working more together than we ever have. Instead of just a few a people, its all of us.”
In the past two seasons, and also the current one, RFHS has had only one to two seniors on its roster. It has been a team carried mainly by a group of talented underclassmen. Now, those girls are juniors, and are the clear leaders of a team with even more talent behind them in the sophomore class.
Junior power forward Howell has been RFHS’ biggest contributor over the last two seasons since starting as a freshman. She now holds the title of team captain, and said her words hold even more weight now than they did before.
“I have a reason now that backs up my voice in what I want to say that I think will help the team in certain situations,” said Howell. “Something coach (Hale) always says is, ‘I can yell something on the floor and it sounds really mean, but it’s just the heat of the game.’ And really, there are a lot of great girls that can take more of what I’m saying, versus, how I’m saying it. And it just leads to more of a positive situation.”
Sophomore point guard Jordan Malone moved to RFHS last season and broke out as another talented freshman starter. Malone said the team has been receiving contributions from numerous players as of late, but highlighted the chemistry she’s built with junior forward Lilith Solis and how her play inside has drastically improved the team.
“One of the things I really love about Lilith is she doesn’t need the credit, she’s going to do the little things no matter what,” said Malone. “The reason we’ve been able to shoot the ball so well and hit so many three’s is because when she’s in the post, she’s not just looking to score, she’s looking for the kick out.
“We have so many scoring opportunities because we have that great inside presence with rebounding and she’s improved majorly. We played without her against Calhoun, and thankfully we had girls step up, but it was like, ‘Wow, we really missed Lilith tonight.’”
As RFHS continues its high level of play into the district season, Hale say’s the team is hungry and eager to make its way into the postseason.
“It’s something we talk about every single day, getting one percent better everyday,” said Hale. “The playoffs is what we’re striving for. We talk about it, we push for it. And it’s cool to see that they have, as a whole, as a group, the hunger to get into the playoffs; because none of them have ever gone.”
Currently, Beeville leads District 26-4A with a 3-0 record. RFHS is in second with a 2-0 record.
“In looking at other 4A districts, this is going to be one of the tougher ones,” said Hale. “Beeville, Sinton, Oso; those teams are notorious for having good girls basketball programs.
“It’s going to be interesting going back and playing Miller; I love that community and I love those girls. And of course we have Ingleside in there too, with my dad. So it’ll be interesting.”
Steve Hale, Morgan’s father, serves as head girl’s basketball coach at Ingleside.
Calhoun is also another District 26-4A opponent. RFHS defeated them in their opening district game of the season 52-36.
The 2020-21 RFHS Lady Pirate basketball team consists of one senior, seven juniors, and three sophomores.
Senior Tia Anderson helps back up the forward position.
Juniors are Howell, Molina, Solis, Alyssa Garcia, Jamie Whitley, Audra Jones, and Makayla Guerrero.
Howell and Solis lead a dangerous combination in the frontcourt.
“It’s so exciting to watch because it’s starting to click,” said Hale. “I’ve had multiple coaches tell me, ‘We’re a load to handle down low,’ and when you mix it with our guard play, it opens everything up for everyone else.”
Jones backs up Solis and Howell in RFHS’ rotation at the frontcourt.
Hale said Solis’s evolution as a player has been a beautiful thing to watch.
“She’s grown up a whole bunch. I don’t think we’ve played one game this season without the opposing coach telling me, ‘She has grown so much,’” said Hale. “It’s been exciting to see her blossom in front of our eyes.”
Molina and sophomore guard Malone run the point for RFHS. Both guards have taken big leadership roles and are lethal when given space to work.
“I came to Mikayla at the beginning of the season and told her I needed her to be my point guard,” said Hale. “She kind of looked at me like, ‘… Are you sure?’ And I told her I believed she was good enough to do this, and she’s done it: Taking care of the ball, working really well with Jordan, breaking the press, bringing the ball up the floor, being interchangeable, and doing a really great job defensively.”
Guards Garcia, Whitley, and Guerrero back up Malone and Molina.
Remaining sophomores are Alexia Herrman and Messiah Hernandez.
Herrman provides solid minutes and adds an additional scoring option inside behind Solis and Howell.
One of RFHS’ more pleasant surprises this season has been the play of Hernandez.
Hernandez was on varsity last season as a freshman, but saw limited minutes. This season, Hernandez has turned into a deadly three-point shooter.
“Those girls are getting really big minutes and contributing heavily in game for us,” said Hale.
RFHS will return from the Christmas break to finish out the rest of its district season at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 2 at home against West Oso.