IVANHOE — Two years ago they sat on the bench, along for the ride as the Lady Rebels made it all the way to the region final.

IVANHOE — Two years ago they sat on the bench, along for the ride as the Lady Rebels made it all the way to the region final.


Last season their participation was a little more involved but nothing very impactful when Sam Rayburn repeated as district champs and reached the third round.


Now seniors Heather Mason, Kelcie McBroom and Julia Carpio find themselves at the forefront of the Lady Rebels’ most recent success.


"We’ve always been in the shadows of the girls before us," McBroom said. "We wanted to go further than them so people would notice us too. It’s different to actually be a starting player in this position."


Needing to replace all five starters, who averaged close to 50 points per game, Sam Rayburn (22-9) didn’t skip a beat and faces Santo (22-8) in a Class 1A Division I Region II semifinal at 3 p.m. today at Abilene Christian University.


The winner will face either Triple A Academy or Windthorst in the region final at noon on Saturday for a spot at the state tournament next week.


"I’m so proud of them. They started to see themselves through my eyes," Sam Rayburn head coach David Guadiano said. "Once they started seeing we could do this, it took off."


With so many minutes available and just four holdovers on the roster, the Lady Rebels have been bolstered by those elevated from the junior varsity.


Junior Keely Spence has taken over the point guard duties. Classmate Kaylee Waldrop provides another big body to take pressure off Mason in the post. Another junior, Courtney Clark, provides an offensive punch off the bench.


"They’ve bought into their roles and played them well," Guadiano said. "Whatever it takes. A big role. A small role. People are willing to do it."


Mason emerged as a force around the basket after two seasons as a backup to Sydney Davis and then Cassidy Hall.


"I knew I had to step up and score," Mason said. "People were doubting us. We had to work extra hard."


Now the Lady Rebels run the offense through her and she has responded by averaging nearly 18 points and 11 rebounds per game.


"Someone’s got to bear the load. She took it," Guadiano said. "Not only did she meet the challenge. She exceeded it."


Sam Rayburn earned the top seed out of District 15-A (I) after earning a tie-breaker victory over Celeste and then beat Itasca, 43-37, before a 47-41 victory over Muenster in a re-match of last year’s region quarterfinal.


Mason had 24 points and 18 rebounds while Spence added 11 points and Clark finished with eight points.


"We like to make things exciting," McBroom said. "Since we’ve had these close games, I think it helps us in situations with the pressure."


Sam Rayburn opened district play with a loss — its first loop setback in three years — to Wolfe City and the Lady Rebels knew things were going to be different. They followed that with 10 straight victories.


"After that first district loss, it was a real eye-opener," Mason said. "We’ve got to get it together, get some chemistry going, make it happen."


Santo has been a playoff regular and made the region quarterfinals last season before losing to region runner-up Goldthwaite.


The District 11-A champions opened the playoffs with a 54-31 victory over Archer City in the area round and beat San Saba, 53-45, to advance to the regional tourney.


The only loss the Lady Wildcats have had in 2014 is a warm-up game against Gunter, 65-49, two weeks ago.


Payton Billue and Courtney Flanagan are among eight upperclassmen, five seniors, who share the scoring duties along with sophomore Chasen Howard.


"They’ve got some really good guards and a big girl in the middle," Guadiano said. "We’ll have our hands full but I’m happy we have the chance."