EARLY — The Bangs Lady Dragons completed a District 7-3A sweep of the Early Lady Horns, and with that clinched the league’s fourth and final playoff seed thanks to Tuesday’s 47-36 victory in the regular season finale.
Bangs (8-18, 2-6) will advance to face District 8-3A champion Clyde — which fell to Brownwood, 62-47, in a playoff warmup game Tuesday — in Region I-3A bi-district playoff action. The game is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday in Eastland.
“Besides awesome it’s also very relieving,” Bangs head coach Niki Holt said in regard to the Lady Dragons locking up a playoff berth on the final night of the regular season. “It’s been a roller coaster season. We’ve faced injuries, sicknesses and everything else under the sun. But tonight we finally played like we’ve been capable of playing.”
Haley Pitts led the charge for Bangs with 17 points trailed by 13 from Raelee Francois, nine from Michaela Light, six from Taylor Malett and one point apiece from Ryli Pruitt and Cassie Carmichael.
For Early (8-16, 1-7), Lauren Jesko tallied a team-high nine points followed by six from Hunter Coffee, five from Beale Madison Gordon, four each from Jayslin King, Makayla Deleon and Shaunna Pinson, two from Alexis Ray and one point each from Hallie Tyler and Wytni Thompson.
Like the first meeting against Early, when Bangs fell behind by 10 points in the first period, the Lady Dragons were again down after one quarter, this time just 7-5. The Lady Dragons found their footing in the second period and opened a 21-17 lead at halftime. But the game was decided in the third quarter as Bangs outscored Early 16-5 to open a comfortable 37-22 advantage.
“I’ve been telling our seniors since they were freshmen that the first three minutes of the third quarter is so important, and every basketball coach will say that,” Holt said. “Tonight we played like those three minutes determined if we were going to the playoffs or not.”
With 2:51 left in the third period, Bangs had turned a narrow four-point halftime lead into a 32-21 cushion. Francois accounted for five points during the surge, draining a three-pointer along the way, while Pitts chipped in four and Light added a bucket.
The Lady Dragons’ lead peaked at 17 points, 41-24, with 5:52 left as Francois scored on a layup after a steal.
With 2:01 remaining, Early reduced the deficit to nine points, 43-34, following a bucket from Deleon, but Bangs — which won the first district meeting, 38-35, on Jan. 22 — kept the Lady Horns at bay the remainder of the contest.