Lady Tigers beat Lady Panthers in 11-3A play
BELLS — The Lady Tigers had been in this spot at the start of district play: hostile environment against a team expected to be in the thick of the race for the top spot in the standings.
Instead of finishing off that game with a win, Whitewright suffered its only loss of the season as a five-point lead turned into a 15-point defeat against Pottsboro.
"We had a lead at a very tough place to play and it crumbled. We had to learn from that and play better in those situations," Lady Tigers first-year head coach David Guadiano said.
And while Bells fought all the way back from a 19-point deficit to tie the game after three quarters, the Lady Panthers never took the lead as Whitewright put the clamps on Bells in the fourth to come away with a 44-35 victory in District 11-3A action.
Emily Barnhurst scored 14 points, Kayanna Cox added eight points, seven rebounds and three steals, Katy Long totaled eight points and Natalie Alexander and Ashton Long chipped in six points apiece for Whitewright (13-1, 4-1), which hosts Bonham on Friday.
Gabby Smith had nine points, Cheznie Hale finished with seven points and Mia Moore and Hannah Bondarenko each totaled six points for Bells (9-7, 3-2), which travels to Pottsboro on Friday night.
The two teams started the day in a three-way tie along with Pottsboro for second place and two games up on a playoff spot as the first half of the district schedule comes to a close next week.
The Lady Tigers were able to keep pace with the Lady Cardinals and continue their strong start. Last season they won 14 games and ended at 6-6 in the district standings, tying for third and winning a tie-breaker before losing in the first round of the playoffs.
"I always tell them — don't get content because good enough never is," Guadiano said. "That's part of the culture we're trying to instill. Just because you won, you come and clock in and work the next day."
Whitewright opened the fourth quarter with three baskets, the last a jumper from Barnhurst with 5:47 remaining.
Smith answered with a three-pointer from the top of the key to make it a one-possession game in the middle of the quarter.
But Bells managed just one more basket, a bucket from Kayton Arnold with 1:40 showing to get the Lady Panthers within 40-35. Turnovers hurt the comeback attempt as Whitewright forced 11 of them in the final period alone while committing only two in that stretch.
"We got back to what we were doing well — patience with the ball and playing great defense," Guadiano said.
Alexander had all six of her points in the fourth to help the Lady Tigers put the game away.
Bells tied the game at 30 heading to the final eight minutes thanks to some stout defense of its own that paired nicely with some long-range shooting.
The rally started by keeping Whitewright from expanding its 15-point half-time lead. The Lady Tigers had 11 turnovers in the third and scored just three points. Barnhurst had the only basket less than a minute into the second half and Cox hit a free throw with 2:16 left.
Bells hit four three-pointers in the quarter with Bondarenko and Moore connecting from deep during a 10-0 run.
After Bailee Dorris scored, Bondarenko banked in a three from the left wing with 37 seconds left to cap the 18-point quarter.
"They came and hit us with a hurricane but we boarded up and weathered the storm," Guadiano said. "That's a really good team. They've been scoring so many points lately it was keeping me up at night."
In the early going however, the Lady Panthers weren't on the board until Smith made a free throw with 6:42 left in the second quarter.
Cox had back-to-back baskets, starting with a three-pointer, and then Katy Long put back her own miss for a 23-4 advantage in the middle of the second.
Hale provided a little bit of a spark, including a three, but Whitewright went into the locker room with a 27-12 lead.
Whitewright held Bells scoreless in the first as the Lady Panthers missed all 12 shots and four free throws to go with five turnovers. Katy Long and Barnhurst led the charge offensively for the Lady Tigers, who had all 14 points during the quarter in the paint.