MIDLAND – The No. 24 Early Lady Horns cut what was twice a nine-point deficit to a single point on a pair of occasions in the fourth period, but could not complete their comeback as they fell to the Idalou Lady Cats, 54-39, in Region I-2A semifinals action at Midland College’s Chaparral Center Friday.

Despite the loss, the fact that the Lady Horns (21-12) were just two victories shy of a trip to the state tournament is an astounding feat considering the struggles the team overcame.

After starting the season 5-0, the injury bug feasted on the Lady Horns, who dropped 11 of their next 15 games, including two of their first three District 8-2A contests. But Early bounced back with 12 consecutive wins, which earned the Lady Horns not only the district championship, but two postseason trophies as well.

“A lot of people had written us off early in the season and for this team to come back from the adversity they were facing to reach this point in the season is just remarkable,” said Lady Horns head coach Derric King. “It says a lot about our girls, their character and their work ethic.”

Tresta Donahoo led the Lady Horns, who shot 35 percent (15-of-59), with 21 points, trailed by four each from Julia Loudermilk and Kaitlyn Levett, three apiece from Morgan Birrell and Tylene Middleton and two points each from Bailey Harris and Brianna Childs.

Idalou (26-8) received 15 points and 14 rebounds from Melanie Beeler, followed by 11 points from Bailey Thiel, seven apiece from Kallie Moore, Brittany De Leon and Danielle Patrick, three points from Kayla Stanton, and two points each from Chelsea Shields and Lacey Conklin. The Lady Cats shot 42 percent (14-of-41) from the floor.

The Lady Horns came up short in two more important statistical categories Friday night – rebounds and free throws. Idalou grabbed 53 rebounds to Early’s 30, while the Lady Horns converted 7-of-14 free throws compared to the Lady Cats’ 24-of-34 effort.

“We told the girls we were going to have to block out and that (Idalou) did a great job getting offensive rebounds,” King said. “At halftime they already had nine offensive boards and it didn’t change after that. Blocking out was an issue all night.”

Despite Early’s woes on the glass, the Lady Horns forced 21 turnovers and gave the ball away just 11 times, which kept Early in the contest.

Turnovers also sparked Early’s fourth-quarter charge as, after trailing 37-30 through three quarters, the Lady Horns trimmed the deficit to 38-37 with 5:53 remaining.

Donahoo started the run with a three-point play at 6:44, then followed with a bucket at 6:16. After a free throw by Patrick, Donahoo again answered for Early to close the gap to 38-37, but that basket would be the last for the Lady Horns.

Idalou and Early exchanged free throws to stay one point apart, 39-38, at the 5:30 mark, but the Lady Cats notched the next three points to build their lead to 42-38 with 4:48 remaining.

Birrell converted a free throw with 4:19 remaining to close the gap to 42-39, but the Lady Horns did not score again.

Early had five point-blank opportunities to cut the deficit back to a single point before Patrick converted a three-point play at 3:05 to push the Idalou lead to 45-39.

“We had tons and tons of missed layups,” King said. “I really don’t know what the problem was. I’m assuming it was nerves, but at this point in the playoffs nerves have to go away at some point. You have to make the easy shots and we did not do that at all. We didn’t execute and we struggled all night offensively. I can’t explain it.”

The Lady Cats recorded the final 12 points, with 10 coming from the charity stripe.

Idalou used a 10-2 run in the first period to grab a 12-5 lead and controlled the contest until the early portion of the fourth period. The Lady Cats led 28-19 with 2:33 left in the first half following back-to-back three-pointers, and opened a 37-28 edge with 26 seconds left in the third period.