Lady Panthers finish tied for second in 11-3A
HOWE — The Lady Panthers knew that no matter their outcome to end the regular season, they would likely be tied in the standings with one team or another.
But Bells wanted to put itself in the best possible spot in the standings as three playoff seeds were still up for grabs. Regardless of the results around the rest of the district, the Lady Panthers had to do their part and pick up a victory.
After trailing at half-time, Bells was able to pull away for a 56-41 victory against the Howe Lady Bulldogs in the District 11-3A finale.
Gabby Smith had 14 points and eight rebounds, Jaiden Tocquigny added 13 points and 12 rebounds, Cheznie Hale totaled 12 points — 10 in the second half — four steals and three assists and Hannah Bondarenko and Riley Rolen chipped in six points apiece for Bells (16-9, 10-4), which tied Pottsboro for second place.
After a coin flip, Pottsboro got the second seed and Bells will be the third seed. Whitewright was a part of that tie before it lost to district champ Gunter and finished fourth. Bells will face Emory Rains in a bi-district matchup at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at McKinney North.
“Once the alignment came out and we saw who got added (Gunter and Pottsboro) to our district, night in and night out was going to be a battle,” Bells head coach Chris Arledge said. “With the competition in our district, you're going to get better as the season goes along.”
Sierra Copeland had 17 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and four blocks, Katie Grogan added 12 points and Kendall Griffin chipped in six points for Howe (7-12, 4-10), which finished sixth in the standings a year after being the Class 3A Region II runner-up for the best season in program history.
“They’re well-coached.” Arledge said. “They’re a tough, hard-nosed team with a lot of size. They weren't going to make it easy.”
Grogan hit her fourth three-pointer of the night seconds into the fourth quarter and Howe trailed by just seven.
Bells followed with buckets by Smith, Hale and Tocquigny to get its lead back into double digits and it stayed their the rest of the contest. The margin hit 15 for the first time in the middle of the fourth and ended being the largest gap besides the final score.
It looked like the Lady Bulldogs were going to hang around for the long haul but a scoring drought to end the third allowed Bells to take the lead for good.
Tocquigny hit a three to open the second half as part of a quick 6-0 burst to give the Lady Panthers a 28-23 advantage.
Grogan answered with consecutive three-pointers and Howe was back in front by one with 5:37 to go in the third. Hale tied the game on a free throw a minute later and Bells closed the frame with a 13-2 run highlighted by threes from Tocquigny and Smith for a 41-32 margin heading to the final eight minutes.
Howe went into half-time clinging to a 23-22 lead that was as big as six points at 17-11 when Copeland hit a jumper with 5:35 remaining in the second quarter.
But Bells chipped away at the deficit and was helped by the Lady Bulldogs scoring just two points — a Copeland putback with 40 seconds remaining before the break, in the final 2:53.
Smith knocked down three free throws and then Rolen answered Copeland with a late layin of her own to make it a one-point margin.
Bells’ only lead in the first half came on free throws by Bondarenko to open the game. Grogan nailed a three-pointer to give Howe a 9-4 advantage and after Tocquigny hit a three with just over a minute left in the first, Copeland scored underneath in the closing seconds for a 13-9 advantage at the end of the quarter.
The Lady Panthers were able to hang around in the first half because they forced eight turnovers in the first quarter and five more in the second before adding another 11 after the break.
“We were thinking too much, keeping us slow on our feet,” Arledge said. “We were more reactionary second half.”