To hear Mifflin High School girls basketball coach Troy Taylor talk, it's as if the season won't start for another three weeks.

To hear Mifflin High School girls basketball coach Troy Taylor talk, it's as if the season won't start for another three weeks.

That's about when the Division II district tournament will begin for the Punchers, and he expects them to be ready. They usually are.

Although it has won only two City League championships since Taylor took over 12 seasons ago, Mifflin has captured five district championships during that time and made it to the state tournament twice.

The Punchers split their first 12 games and likely slipped out of City-North Division contention for good when they lost to Northland 45-34 on Jan. 20, but Taylor is optimistic.

"We're entering our 12th scrimmage," Taylor said before his team beat East 51-26 last Friday. "We've got six more scrimmages to go and then the playoffs. We're getting better in every area."

Mifflin, which lost to eventual champion Kettering Alter 45-31 in a state semifinal last year, has several players back from last season. Senior post player Patricia Mack, junior forward Sateria Lawhorn and sophomore forward Shanevian Holden give the Punchers an inside trio that should be difficult to defend for most area Division II teams.

Senior De'Asha Talley and junior Alisa Marshall are the primary ball-handlers.

Mifflin, which also lost to Northland 51-32 on Dec. 12, led the Vikings 12-0 after one quarter in the rematch.

"Our big girls on the inside have been defending pretty well," Taylor said. "Our post play has been pretty good. We're working on the guard situation.

"We're just trying to get ready for the playoffs. We have nine girls, so we've got four on our bench and we're trying to work them in accordingly. Patricia does a great job rebounding and has been working really hard. She's an outstanding young lady. (Our record is) right at (.500), but there are teams that are going to run from us like they always do (at the drawing). We're better than our record."

•EASTMOOR TAKES BIG STEP -- The Eastmoor boys team held on to beat Independence 58-57 in the Hoop it Up game of the Week last Friday.

The biggest thing the Warriors might have learned from the victory was that it has one of the league's better inside players in 6-foot-3 senior Mike Lester.

Eastmoor also has one of the more experienced backcourts in the City-South in point guard Alex Coleman and shooting guard Doug Thorpe.

The Warriors, however, know they need to keep working on a few issues of sloppiness if they're to make it to a third consecutive City championship game. Against the 76ers, they committed 17 turnovers, had two starters foul out and made just 9-for-17 on free throws.

"Our defense in the second half was the biggest thing for us and we were getting a lot of rebounds," said Lester, who scored 13 points and had seven rebounds against the 76ers. "Our guards are starting to come around better. We've got to work hard on controlling the ball. We lost three superstars from last year (in 2008 graduates Antonio Bumpus, Ray Woods and Vincent Coleman) so we're just trying to get our chemistry back together."

Before last Tuesday, Eastmoor was first at 6-1 and Independence and Marion-Franklin were 5-2. Walnut Ridge was 4-3.

The Warriors met the Red Devils last Tuesday and South last Wednesday and play Friday at West and Tuesday at Africentric. Marion-Franklin met Africentric last Wednesday and plays Friday at Independence and Tuesday against visiting Briggs. Walnut Ridge played South last Tuesday and Independence last Wednesday and plays Friday at Briggs and Tuesday against visiting West.

The 76ers, who played Briggs last Tuesday and continue league action Friday against Marion-Franklin and Tuesday at South, also lost to Eastmoor 73-66 on Dec. 16.

Still, Independence holds a tie-breaker over Eastmoor and Marion-Franklin if it ends up tied for first in the league with one of those two teams because the Warriors and Red Devils have been to the City championship game more recently.

Walnut Ridge last won a City title in 1971, when it also captured the Class AAA state championship.

"We've just got to get refocused," 76ers coach Tom Cripe said. "We're only a game back and we do win the tie-breaker. We've just got to take care of ourselves."

•LINDEN BOYS BATTLING -- After advancing to a Division II state semifinal in 2005, the Linden-McKinley boys basketball team was a district semifinalist in 2007 but lost in the opening round in 2006 and last year.

The Panthers have a new coach in LeAnthony Jones but could have the talent to go far in the postseason, even though they lost nine of their first 12.

Evidence of the improvement Linden has been showing came Jan. 20 when it cut a 16-point second-quarter deficit to five before losing to Brookhaven 65-60.

Each of Linden's first three wins came over area Division II programs. Three of the losses came to City title contenders Northland (88-47 on Jan. 13), Beechcroft (98-65 on Jan. 9) and Independence (99-51 on Jan. 17).

One individual reason for optimism has been the play of senior forward Sean Rogers, who had 32 points against Brookhaven and is averaging 17.

"We're just getting back to basics," Jones said. "We need to rebound better and turn the ball over less. When we put some sort of cap on our turnovers, we'll be OK."