By JUSTIN RAINS
LUFKIN — Heading into Tuesday’s regional quarterfinal against No. 15 Zavalla, no member of the Neches girls’ basketball team had ever lost a playoff game.
Really, they hadn’t really ever trailed in the postseason.
None of them can make those claims any more.
The Lady Eagles outscored the three-time defending Class 1A, Division II champions 16-5 in the second quarter, creating a deficit they’d keep the rest of the way in a 46-38 victory here at Sands Gymnasium on the campus of Angelina College.
“They redeemed themselves tonight,” NHS coach Andy Snider said of his team. “We got it handed to them when we went down to Zavalla (earlier in the season), but they made Neches proud tonight.”
The loss snapped a 19-game postseason winning streak for the Lady Tigers, who hadn’t lost since the 2009 state championship game.
Zavalla moves on to the Class 1A, Division I Region III tournament Friday at Tyler Junior College’s Wagstaff Gym, where they’ll take on second-ranked Martin’s Mill at noon Friday.
When Zavalla’s Shelby Lee hit a three-pointer with just over four minutes left in the third quarter, it gave the Lady Eagles their first double-digit lead of the game. That lead held for the next 10 minutes of game time.
Neches couldn’t get to within single-digits until Kiandra Taylor stole a pass and converted a wide-open lay-up to cap a 6-0 Lady Tiger run with under two minutes left in the game.
The Lady Tigers shrunk the deficit to its smallest margin less than a minute later, when Kelsee Wade hit a three to answer two Lee free throws and make it 44-37 with 57 seconds left. But, Neches couldn’t get any closer.
While Neches made a valiant comeback, the game changed in the second quarter, when Neches’ leading scorer at the time, McKay-Lee Chapman, picked up her third foul with about four minutes remaining.
That forced her to the bench and allowed Zavalla to put even more of a defensive emphasis on Taylor, and it showed.
The Lady Eagles held Neches to only five points in the frame while scoring 16, creating all the margin they’d need in the process.
“Mac is our leading scorer, and they box-and-oned us tonight with Kiandra,” Snider said. “That really didn’t hurt us a whole lot…but when (Chapman) went out, their defense worked a little better on us.”
Neches playoff run this season comes despite the loss of five of its top six players to graduation after last year, when the Lady Tigers won their third-straight Class 1A, Division II state title. It also came despite a move up in classification to 1A, Division I.
“(My players) have hearts as big as Texas,” Snider said. “They work hard and they stepped up tonight…they battled all the way through.”
SLOCUM 95, Kerens 90
It took two extra frames to decide it, but the Slocum girls’ basketball team is headed back to the regional tournament.
The eighth-ranked Lady Mustangs outlasted the fifth-ranked Kerens girls’ basketball team at Tyler Junior College Tuesday, 95-90, in double-overtime.
With the win, Slocum moves on to face unbeaten and top-ranked Martinsville at 10 a.m. Friday back at TJC’s Wagstaff Gym to open the Class 1A, Division I Region III tournament.
Martin’s Mill versus Evadale will follow that game in the second semifinal. The winners of those two games face-off at 10 a.m. Saturday for the right to represent Region III at the state tournament.
Martin's Mill 50, CAYUGA 25
The Cayuga girls' basketball team proved no match for the second-ranked Martin's Mill girls' basketball team Tuesday, as the Lady Mustangs rolled into the regional tournament to a 50-25 win over the Ladycats.
Madison Spears led Cayuga with eight points, while Kylee Cross had six and Danielle Anderson added four.
Cayuga ends the season 21-11, while Martin's Mill moves on to face Evadale in the regional semifinals Friday at Tyler Junior College.