It was played like a game between two teams who weren’t all that far apart in the standings and perhaps gave a taste of what was to come during the second half of district play.


The defensive struggle through three quarters put an emphasis on how much Sherman and Denison wanted, and by the end of the yea might need, the outcome to go their way.


“You could tell from the beginning it wasn’t going to be a high-scoring game,” Denison head coach Rod Been said. “I’m completely comfortable with low-scoring games.”


But by the middle of the fourth, the Lady Yellow Jackets found a way to break free just enough to build a double digit lead and came away with a hard-fought 42-34 victory over the Lady Bearcats in District 5-5A action at Denison on Friday night.


Zya Nugent scored 18 points and Taryn Gaines added nine points and 11 rebounds for Denison (16-8, 4-2), which has a two-game lead on third place with the second half starting Tuesday at Wichita Falls in trying to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade.


“I’ve stressed how we’ve gone about building the program. It’s five years of hard work,” Been said. “This didn’t come from nowhere. It’s not shocking to me we’re winning games.


“We need to run the same course we did in the first half and maybe play better against Ryan or Rider.”


Sherman (11-16, 2-4) was trying to gain sole possession of fourth place but instead finds itself in a three-way tie with Denton and Wichita Falls for the final playoff spot.


“We missed a lot of shots. That really hurt us,” Sherman head coach David Upton said. “Big game like this and we came out with a bit of nerves. The tempo was in our favor. We didn’t let them get out and run. I thought we did a good job of that.”


Kristen Gittens led the Lady Bearcats with 16 points and Jahmaria Tavie totaled seven points and 13 rebounds for Sherman, which matched its point total from the first three quarters (17) in the fourth as it tried to stage a comeback.


“It’s finding consistency,” Upton said. “We have some kids who can score the ball; we don’t do it consistently.”


But Denison also got its offense going in the final eight minutes and was able to stave off the rally attempt. It was also the sixth time in seven games the Lady Jackets held their opponent under 40 points.


Heather Hinkley scored and had a chance at a three-point play to open the fourth quarter but missed the free throw as Sherman remained down by three points.


Taylor Dawes doubled the lead with a 3-pointer from the right corner, Madi Nixon scored off an assist by Olivia Marr and Gaines notched a putback to give the Lady Jackets a 10-point margin.


Over the final six minutes, Denison was able to answer every Sherman basket.


When T’Aira McShan cut the deficit, Zaycia Guthrie scored and Nugent followed with a three-point play. Gittens had another lay-up and Zachareia Sommers hit a 3-pointer from the left wing.


And when the Lady Bearcats made it a nine-point margin with 1:34 left on a pair of Gittens free throws, Gaines converted a three-point play seconds later.


“Taryn Gaines was huge. That freshman stepped into her first Sherman-Denison game and responded really well,” Been said. “She pulled down a lot of boards and there were a lot of bad shots that had to be collected.”


Twice in the third quarter Gittens kept Sherman in contention with a pair of long 3-pointers.


Denison held an 18-11 lead before she made one with just over three minutes left in the quarter. Gaines and Nugent scored underneath as the Lady Jackets were about to go ahead by double digits but Gittens hit another 3 with three seconds left to knock the margin down to five.


The Lady Jackets took a 15-9 advantage into the locker room by holding Sherman scoreless over the final five minutes of the second quarter. Alaura Andrews scored on a drive to cut the deficit to 11-9 and it stayed that way until Nugent and Marr, after a steal near midcourt, made baskets in the final 25 seconds.


Neither team had a strong first quarter. Tavie hit two free throws and Andrews connected from the line in the first two minutes for an early lead but the Lady Bearcats didn’t score after Gittens’ lay-in with 4:50 to go in the quarter.


Nugent made a 3-pointer a minute earlier to get Denison on the board and Marr converted a steal for a lay-up with 16 seconds left in the frame to tie the game at five.