TIMPSON — After having the thrill of a district championship wiped out by a first-round upset the last two years, Huntsville head coach LaToya Bennett and her team made sure to soak in the moment on Friday night.
The Lady Hornets took the lead in the first minute of their bi-district showdown with Texarkana Texas and never trailed, holding off a handful of rallies on their way to a 66-49 victory at Timpson High School — Huntsville’s first girls basketball playoff win since 2011.
“It's been a long time coming,” Bennett said. “I couldn't even sleep last night. I was just praying and hoping that the girls would take care of business. I'm just so elated that we were able to get the job done.”
“I don't know what to say,” added junior guard Aliyah Craft. It's my third time doing this, and we did it on the third try. I'm so glad we did it.”
Craft led the Lady Hornets with a game-high 27 points, which was more than Texas’ top-two scorers combined.
The three-year contributor did the majority of her damage during a pivotal mid-game stretch that ultimately proved to be the difference in the game. Craft scored 22 of her points in the second and third quarters, with a 3-point, buzzer-beater stretching Huntsville’s lead to 17 points heading into the final period.
Senior post KeNysha Johnson also scored in double-figures with 11 points, while dominating the boards on both ends of the floor. Seniors Alyssa Fielder and Tya Rogers added nine and seven points, respectively, to go along with a flurry of steals.
“I love being with them every day,” Craft added. “They make me laugh and smile — they make me mad too, but they make it up — and I love my coaches. We're just like family.”
Texas made a handful of attempts throughout the game to threaten the Lady Hornets’ lead, cutting the gap down to 11-10 in the first quarter following a fast start for Huntsville. Just as they would all game, however, the Lady Hornets were able to widen the gap by overwhelming their opponent with constant full-court pressure.
Huntsville watched its lead dwindle down to five points in the early stages of the second half, but that was as close as Texas would get. The Lady Hornets flipped momentum with a 6-0 run off a trio of steals in a span of 30 seconds, and proceeded to out-score the Lady Tigers 30-18 over the final 11 minutes.
According to Bennett, the perseverance put on display by the Lady Hornets on Friday night is nothing new — and something that could spur a special playoff run.
“This group of girls works hard every day,” the coach said. “Day in and day out, they never let the ball drop. Like I said before, some groups start to give up and stop working hard when you get to this point in the season. This group works hard every day.”
Next up for Huntsville is an area round matchup against North Forney. The date, time and location for the game have yet to be determined.