HILLSBORO – In the hallway outside Hillsboro High School’s gym before the game, South Grand Prairie’s Uchenna Nwoke prematurely headed to the court before the rest of her teammates.
Moments later, she sheepishly ducked back into the hall when her team called her back.
Ultimately, however, it was Midway – not Nwoke and the Lady Warriors — whose time on the court proved far shorter than it would have preferred.
The 19th-ranked Pantherettes opened the postseason sluggishly with a two-point first quarter and were forced to play catch-up the rest of the way against a talented, towering team from South Grand Prairie. Though Midway made things interesting in the fourth quarter with a rally, the Lady Warriors held on for a 48-41 upset win in Class 6A bi-district action on Tuesday night.
“We just came out to a slow start. The shots didn’t fall, and that’s a very, very good team,” Midway coach Ben Holder said. “They come from a very, very good district, and I think we come from a very, very good district. But when the shots don’t fall, you’re just not going to have a very good chance to compete.”
South Grand Prairie (21-11) advances to play Plano, a 59-41 winner over L.D. Bell, in the area round.
Midway (28-6) trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half, but fought back behind a relentless trapping defense that began to force the Lady Warriors into some miscues. Ja’Naiya Davis came through with a steal and a layup to slice the gap to 45-37 with 2:08 to play, and she added a putback with 54 ticks remaining that brought the count to 45-39.
But that’s as close as Midway would get. The Pantherettes fouled to stop the clock in the final minute, but as was the case much of the night, they couldn’t cash in with net gains on the offensive end. Davis was the only Midway player to reach double-figure scoring with 10 points, and the junior guard put up eight of those in the fourth quarter.
“We’re going to fight and scrap. We’re not going to quit,” Holder said. “That’s something in our program. We’re not going to ever quit, regardless of the score. Keep believing that you have a chance. If you believe that you have a puncher’s chance, who knows who’s going to win the fight.”
After a couple of quick-draw missed treys at the start of the game, Midway’s Shea Isaac opened the scoring by rolling in a 15-foot jumper that touched every part of the iron before falling.
But the Pantherettes’ aim went south thereafter. Despite Holder’s pleas of “Movement please!” from the sideline, the offense looked static against South Grand Prairie’s zone defense, as players settled for perimeter tries that didn’t come close to connecting.
South Grand Prairie’s frontcourt tandem of 6-foot senior forward Kayla Wells, a Texas A&M-bound standout, and 6-foot-6 junior center Uchenna Nwoke gave the smaller Pantherettes fits at times in the paint. They each scored nine points and finished with nine rebounds apiece.
From Midway’s perspective, there were just too many rebounds for the Lady Warriors to get.
“They’re a big, big team, obviously. That’s obvious in the post,” Holder said. “But No. 12 (Evans) is a special player. You don’t get a scholarship to A&M for no reason. She’s very, very talented. Holistically, as a defense, I thought we did OK. We held them to less than 50 points. Our struggles offensively, we just struggled to shoot the ball.”
Despite its cold shooting, Midway trailed only 10-2 after a quarter, then cut the lead to six early in the second after Gillian Crain ripped a steal and angled downcourt for a floater over Nwoke.
But the Pantherettes just never could find a rhythm, or one player to get hot. South Grand Prairie, meanwhile, hit Midway from a variety of different angles. Junior guard Amber Bacon sizzled at times, and she connected on a bank shot and a driving layup to push the Lady Warriors to a 25-13 halftime edge.
South Grand Prairie maintained that 12-point lead through the third quarter before Midway produced one last energetic rally at the end. Barbara Benson gave the Pantherettes a spark when she swatted away a Lady Warrior shot, tipped the ball to herself, then took off leading the break before finding Keziah Bachert for a layup on the other end.
Unfortunately for Midway, which reached the regional final a year ago, those plays just weren’t plentiful enough.
Bacon topped South Grand Prairie with 13 points, while the frontcourt trio of Nwoke, Wells and Diamond Willcot all had nine.
Senior guard Chelsey Harris was Midway’s next-leading scorer after Davis with six points.