MOULTON - The city of Moulton may be abuzz with excitement over an unexpected run to the Class 1A, Division II state tournament, but you wouldn't think it by the relaxed atmosphere at Kittens practice.
"We're going in as underdogs so we've got no pressure," said Kittens coach John Meisetschleager. "Neches is looking for a three-peat and they think they have it wrapped up. We're glad to make it, we're just going to go down there and play."
Moulton makes its 19th appearance in the state tournament on Thursday when it takes on two-time defending state champion Neches at 7 p.m. at the Erwin Center in Austin.
Moulton is 26-10 on the season and got the Class 1A, Division II state tournament by winning District 30-1A, Division II and beating Fayetteville, McMullen, Rochelle and Leakey in the playoffs.
With a win, the Kittens will make their ninth appearance in the state final; the most recent was in 2005.
Neches is 32-5 this season and this is the fourth trip to the state tournament for its senior class. This is the eight state tournament appearance overall for the Lady Tigers.
The run to the state tournament was a surprise for a team that had to replace four of its five starters from last year.
The Lady Tigers are led by two-time state championship game MVP Roddricka Patton, a 5-foot-2 guard.
"She creates a lot of things and she's very fast, they like to run the floor," said Kitten senior guard Brandee Dolezal about Patton.
Dolezal will likely draw the defensive matchup against Patton on Thursday. Dolezal leads the team with 197 steals in 36 games this season.
"I'm glad they've got a good guard because I've got a pretty good guard myself, we'll match up with her," Meisetschleager said.
At 5-foot-8, sophomore post Kendall Kristynik is the tallest Kitten in the lineup. The Lady Tigers have six players 5-foot-8 or taller with 5-foot-11 sophomore forward Kamry Kinder as their tallest player.
In its regional final against Leakey, Moulton had to deal with a trio of 6-footers in the starting lineup.
"We're used to playing against tall girls so it'll be a normal game for us," said junior forward Megan Mitchon.
Although there are no 6-foot tall players on the Lady Tiger roster, Kristynik knows Moulton has to play with the same intensity that helped them beat Leakey.
"They'll still get in there and get the rebounds so you still have to block them out," Kristynik said. "You still have to play your game the same as if they were six-foot."
Dolezal is Moulton's leading rebounder with an average of three per game.
The Kittens patient offense can also help out its defense with Neches' up-tempo offense.
"We're going to have to work the ball and get a high percentage shot in order to win the game," Dolezal said.
Dolezal is the Moulton's leading scorer averaging 10 points per game.
Mitchon and Chelsey Darilek are second and third in scoring with averages of eight and seven points per game, respectively.
Although she averaged only five points in the regular season, Kristynik has taken her game to the next level in the playoffs.
In the postseason the sophomore post is averaging 12 points per game and provided the go ahead three-point play against Leakey.
"She's really a strong player now," said senior guard Casie Zimmerman.
Added Meisetschleager: "She's just exploded in the last four playoff games."
Besides Kristynik, the other consistent aspect of the Kittens this playoff season is a quick start and a stumble out of the locker room for the second half.
Moulton has led in every playoff game and in three of those four; the Kittens have led by at least 14 points only to win by single digits.
After beating Leakey, Meisetschleager joked about getting rid of the third quarter of games. Against a talented team like Neches, the Kittens will look to keep a lead.
"We get to the point where we get a lead and we try to preserve it instead of extending upon that lead," Meisetschleager said.
Thursday makes the first time in seven years the Kittens will play at the Frank Erwin Center.
Although the college arena is much more spacious and has all the bells and whistles associated with a Big 12 arena, the Kittens know they must concentrate on the court like they would in any other game.
"The gym floor is still going to be the same as any other gym floor," Darilek said.