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Caleb Turrentine / The Herald Holtville’s Ashonti Gray (12) gets pressured by Elmore County’s C.J. Thornton.

There have been clear steps in the right direction from the Holtville girls basketball team this season. The Bulldogs won their first game since 2016 and they are finding ways to score with multiple players getting looks at the basket.

Holtville is still not where it wants to be but they have the makeup to see plenty of improvement over the next few seasons. A majority of the team is underclassmen plus two players are still in middle school so the Bulldogs have to look to their limited experienced girls to lead the way.

Ashonti Gray has embraced that leadership role as the junior is in her third season with the varsity team.

“I’ve been a part of this for almost five years now so it’s been great coming up from where we were,” Gray said. “I feel like my role is to lead them. I want to help them out and answer any questions they ask me.”

Gray is one of three upperclassmen on the team, all of them being juniors. She has stuck with the program through all of the lows and Gray said it has been worth it to see the team grow.

Holtville snapped a 56-game losing streak with a win over Billingsley earlier this season. Gray only scored two points but it was a basket in the fourth quarter to help the Bulldogs close out the victory.

“That was very emotional for me,” Gray said. “Finally winning a game after losing every game since middle school was like a breath of fresh air. We have a great coach and he always has positive words. There’s nothing wrong with that. Now the goal is to win another one.”

Gray has shown she can be a key to that future success as she continues to push for another win. In last week’s area opener against Elmore County, Gray set a new career-high with 14 points to go along with five rebounds.

After the Panthers jumped out to a 20-0 lead in the second quarter, Gray got the Bulldogs on the board with a 3-pointer and scored again before the half to cut into the lead. Gray added another 3-pointer in the second half as Holtville equaled Elmore County’s total in the final 22 minutes of the game, losing 44-24.

“We have a few girls who have come along and shooting the ball much better,” Holtville coach Jason Franklin said. “Holly Smith has been running the offense and Ashonti had a really good game tonight. It has been a culmination of everyone doing their job.”

Franklin said he has seen a lot of improvement from Gray and the rest of the team over the last two seasons. He said Gray and the other leaders on the team have grown into the game and have caught up to the speed at the varsity level which goes a long way with a young team.

 “They are a little bit faster and up to speed with the game than the rest of the girls are so that helps a lot,” Franklin said. “Being coachable will get you a lot further than pure athletic ability and she started realizing that. She’s come a long way and I’m proud of her for that.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.