The No. 24 Early Lady Horns’ 12-game win streak has positioned the program to secure its first trip to the UIL Class 2A state basketball tournament, if Early can chalk up two more wins this weekend.
Early (21-11) will face the Idalou Lady Wildcats (25-8) in the Region I-2A semifinals at 6 p.m. at Midland College’s Chaparral Center, while No. 4 Wall (31-3) and No. 5 Shallowater (29-3) will square off in the other semifinal at 8 p.m.
An Early victory tonight would place the Lady Horns in the regional championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday against either Wall or Shallowater, with a berth in the state tournament — slated for March 4-6 at the University of Texas’ Erwin Center — on the line.
The Lady Horns are coming off a 50-43 regional quarterfinals victory over district rival Bangs Wednesday, but Early head coach Derric King has had just one day prepare for the regional semifinal showdown.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” said King of preparing for Idalou. “At this point in the season you can either play defense or you can’t, and you can score or you can’t. I hope we’re ready for the challenge.”
Idalou has chalked up three postseason victories, defeating Ozona (57-28), Floydada (62-55) and Spearman (49-40) to reach the regional semifinals.
The Lady Wildcats are led by Brittany Deleon, Bailey Thiel, Melanie Beeler, Kallie Moore, Kyla Stanton and Lacey Conklin. Thiel has averaged 14 points in three playoff games, Deleon has averaged 12.5 points per game in the last two outings and Beeler averaged 12 points per game in the first two postseason contests.
“I know they’re big and have a couple of posts that are really good and can move,” King said. “They’re bigger than we are, so that will be a challenge for us. They also have a few guards that can shoot the ball pretty good.”
Early snapped out of its recent shooting slump against Bangs as the Lady Horns put 50 points on the board after scoring no more than 37 points in each of its last two games.
Tresta Donahoo led Early with 15 points, followed by 13 points each from Tylene Middleton and Julia Loudermilk, seven from Katie Isom and two points from Brianna Childs.
“I told them after the first playoff game that it was just typical first-game playoff nerves,” said King of Early’s 36-point outing against Eastland in the area round. “I just told them to relax. From here on out our shooting should continue to improve.”
Defensively, the Lady Horns didn’t keep Bangs at bay the way King had hoped, but Early — which surrendered just 13 points to Eastland — still held the Lady Dragons 14 points below their playoff average.
“I thought our defense was down a caliber from the last few games, especially with our guards,” King said. “We looked like we were afraid to be hands on a little bit. I don’t know, maybe they were afraid of being called for a hand check.”
If the Lady Horns advance to the regional championship game, they will have even less time to prepare for either Wall or Shallowater.
“We’ve got some scouting reports to look at and some film to look at, but we won’t do that until we need to after the game Friday night,” King said. “It’s going to be tough to prepare, and we just hope they have the same problem.”
Early has seen Wall once already this season, dropping a 58-26 decision during its 4-11 slump midway through the season.
“We lost to Wall by about 30 during our down time,” King said. “We only had seven girls suited up. We were down 10 to 12 points in the third period, but we just ran out of gas.”
As for what it will take for the Lady Horns to reach Austin, King stated Early must play its best two games of the season this weekend.
“We have to be clicking on all cylinders for two games in a row. There can’t be any lapses,” King said. “Obviously defense has to be the main focus and we have to play defense better than we did against Bangs. Offensively, we have to shoot even better than we did Wednesday.”