WHITEWRIGHT — As the District 10-3A schedule hits the midway point, the name of the game has been defense.


And with Howe breaking out to a two-game advantage, the jockeying behind the leading Lady Bulldogs has begun in earnest.


That is why stops have become so crucial, particularly among this group of teams. A three-minute stretch where shots are hard to come by, a defensive rebound in traffic to key transition the other direction or a willingness to hit the deck by taking a charge can be the influence any of the other six schools use to get into the playoffs or be left home.


The Van Alstyne Lady Panthers were able to use their size advantage and a trapping defense to come away with a 46-29 victory over the Whitewright Lady Tigers in district action on Friday night.


“That’s always the plan,” Van Alstyne head coach Tyler Dyer said. “We were really active, got a lot of deflections.”


Van Alstyne (16-7, 4-2) remained in lockstep with Bells for second place and put a two-game gap between three others for fourth. The loss sent Whitewright (10-15, 1-5) to the bottom of the standings but the Lady Tigers are just a game behind the three-way tie of Bonham, Blue Ridge and Leonard for the final postseason spot.


“They’re not that far apart,” Dyer said. “Our district, you lose two straight and you can go from second to fifth real quick. We’re trying to take it one game at a time and let everything fall they way it does.”


Maegan Thomas scored 16 points — 12 in the first half — while Torin Riddick and Emma Donald each added nine points for Van Alstyne.


Natalie Alexander led Whitewright with 11 points while Amaya Rice chipped in nine points and Emily Looney totaled six points.


Van Alstyne, which played without one of its starters, Micah Welch, is back on track after injuries led to it losing four of five games last month.


“That’s something you can’t do anything about,” Dyer said. “We’re hoping with the second half starting, we’re peaking at the right time.”


There was only one quarter where either team scored more than 11 points and Van Alstyne’s outburst in the second frame helped the Lady Panthers build a 31-15 half-time lead.


Van Alstyne scored 20 points in that eight-minute stretch, outscoring Whitewright by nine and extended what turned out to be an insurmountable advantage.


The Lady Tigers had 11 points in the second but were held to single digits in the other three quarters, including only 14 points after the break.


Whitewright went to the fourth quarter facing a 15-point deficit but made only one basket — a layup by Alexander with 7:02 left. She hit a pair of free throws with 5:20 remaining and it looked like both sides were going to go scoreless the final four minutes of the game after Thomas’ basket at the 4:03 mark ended Van Alstyne’s output.


Free throws from Rice and Emily Barnhurst in the final 23 seconds made for Whitewright’s final total.


Neither team did much in the third quarter, combining for 15 points. Breanna McCaskill’s three-pointer followed a Thomas lay-in to push Van Alstyne’s lead to 36-17 before the Lady Panthers almost went the final six minutes of the stanza without another point. Riddick’s basked with 3:35 left kept the drought from occurring.


Whitewright fared just marginally better with baskets by a pair of free throws from both Alexander and Rice to give the Lady Tigers the one-point advantage in the period.


Van Alstyne opened the second quarter on a 10-2 run with Thomas getting three baskets to open the surge, which stretched to a 21-5 margin.


Looney hit back-to-back shots to trim the deficit to 12 with a little more than two minutes remaining in the half. Donald got the lead back to 17 with a three-pointer moments later.


It was a sluggish start for both offenses before Van Alstyne got in a rhythm. Thomas scored underneath less than a minute into the game and the scoreboard didn’t change until Alexander tied the contest with a floater in the lane nearly four minutes later.


The Lady Panthers then went on a 9-0 spurt capped by a three-pointer from Avery Duncan, who chipped in five points, five steals and three assists.


“It was a pretty good all-around performance,” Dyer said. “We got off to a good start and continued throughout the whole night. We got good contributions from everyone.”