Van Alstyne beats Anna to earn a playoff spot
VAN ALSTYNE — After the Lady Panthers came up short of the playoffs last season in a strong Class 3A district, the initial odds of doing it against a stout 4A grouping after adding three new starters didn’t look that great.
But Van Alstyne found its bearings early, buoyed by a victory over defending district champ Aubrey. Now there is no need for the Lady Panthers’ postseason push to go down to the wire after VA clinched a playoff spot for the third time in four years with a 52-23 victory over Anna.
“It feels good to get it out of the way. There’s a relief that we’re in,” Van Alstyne head coach Tyler Dyer said. “We’ve got a really balanced team. They’re getting better each week and it’s been fun to watch.”
Bailey Henderson had 16 points and 10 rebounds, Kylie Allen added eight points and Lacey Thorpe chipped in six points for Van Alstyne (13-6, 7-3), which plays at second-place Melissa on Tuesday.
The Lady Panthers need one more win or a loss by Aubrey, which is a game behind VA, to get at least the third seed. A victory against Melissa would give them a chance at second.
Qua Fisher scored 13 points and Val Ndofor added four points for Anna (6-17, 2-9), which had already been eliminated from playoff contention. The Lady Coyotes end their season by hosting Aubrey on Tuesday.
Last season the Lady Panthers finished in a three-way tie for third place with Leonard and Whitewright and were the odd team out after a coin flip and a play-in game loss. It was a disappointing end for a group which had reached the region quarterfinals in 2019 for the program’s best showing in 18 years.
“I’m extremely proud of the group we have this year. They show up and work hard,” Dyer said. “So far the second half of district we’ve played better against the opponents than we did the first half. They want to keep getting better.”
Despite managing just five points in the third quarter, Van Alstyne carried a 37-14 advantage into the final eight minutes. The Lady Panthers hit only one shot — a layin from Kaelyn Miller in the final minute-and-a-half — but Anna couldn’t take advantage as the Lady Coyotes had just seven points of their own, five coming from Fisher.
VA committed seven turnovers in the stanza and were relying on the rest of its roster to score as Henderson, Allen and Kelsie Adams, who totaled five points, had all their production in the first half.
Thorpe hit three jumpers in the fourth quarter, twin sister Laney added a three-point play as the lead stretched to 30 points with just over three minutes to go.
Early on it was defense which led the charge. The Lady Panthers nearly held the Lady Coyotes scoreless in the second quarter. VA forced at least seven turnovers in every frame but their best effort came right before half-time. Fisher scored with 2:49 remaining until the break for her team’s only points and by that time the Lady Panthers had widened the gap to 21.
Henderson and Allen then combined to push Van Alstyne to a 32-7 lead at the break.
“Last time we let them hang around. They had the lead against us first quarter. We were only up six at half-time,” Dyer said. “We talked about getting after it. We don’t usually press. They had trouble with it.”
Van Alstyne opened the game on a 17-2 run where the only points from Anna came on a Fisher bucket two-and-half minutes into the game.
Henderson led the early charge by scoring nine of the first 11 points, including a pair of three-pointers. Katie Carson made a two layups as Van Alstyne extended its advantage.
Kayzha Spence hit a three-pointer with 15 seconds left in the first quarter to halt the Lady Panthers’ 12-0 run but Henderson answered with a basket in the closing seconds for a 19-5 lead.
Van Alstyne 52