WEST — If the Lorena Lady Leopards were feeling any playoff jitters, they didn’t let them creep into their performance as the postseason began.
Instead, District 18-4A champion Lorena established an early lead over Ferris and stiff-armed the Lady Jackets the rest of the way for a 49-32 victory on Monday night at the West High School gym.
The Lady Leopards (25-7) entered on a five-game winning streak and had won 14 of their last 15 coming into the playoffs. But none of those previous victories guaranteed Lorena would survive and advance in the Class 4A Region 3 playoff bracket.
Instead, the Lady Leopards had to rely on the poise of a senior-less squad. The underclassmen came through by snapping the program’s postseason drought.
“It’s a great feeling,” Lorena coach Rodney Gee said. “Our kids deserve a lot of credit for all the work we put in and time we put in and it’s a really nice feeling to get this one. It’s been a little while since we won one (in the playoffs).”
Lorena moves on to the area round of the playoffs to face the winner of Tuesday’s Rusk vs. Center contest.
On Monday, the Lady Leopards out-rebounded Ferris, 30-28, and harassed the Lady Jackets into 18 turnovers. That helped Lorena gain an edge in the hustle category.
It also helped that Lorena came out firing on target.
Lady Leopards junior guard Jasmyn Franklin, who never hesitated to pull the trigger in the playoff opener, nailed a 3-pointer from near the top of the key to start Lorena off with a 3-0 lead a minute into the game.
“I knew we were going to play hard, but it’s still a different environment,” Gee said. “For (Franklin) to come in and hit that one, I think it just relaxed everybody.”
Lorena, which never trailed in the contest, staked a 13-5 lead after the first quarter. Sara Robertson put back a rebound and Bailey Burbidge made a fast-break layup to keep the Lady Leopards rolling early in the first quarter. Franklin dished to Corbin Parnell for an open basket that capped the Lady Leopards’ 9-2 run in the first four minutes.
Franklin and Burbidge each scored 13 points to lead Lorena. Robertson scored 7 in the first half and finished with 9 points and 10 rebounds.
Ferris guard Tenaya McCray scored 13 points to lead the Lady Jackets. Guard Ziria Wright pumped in 9 points in the first half to keep Lorena from running away with the contest. But foul trouble forced Wright to the bench early in the third quarter. She managed just one made 3-pointer in the second half and finished the game with 12 points.
Franklin book-ended the first half by nailing another shot from beyond the arc to put Lorena ahead 29-17 at halftime.
Wright’s trey pulled the Lady Jackets, the fourth-place team from District 17-4A, within 10 points early in the third quarter.
Lorena responded with a 9-0 run as Robertson made a pair of free throws, Franklin hit her third triple of the night and Burbidge went through the Ferris defense for a layup and added a jumper to cap the surge.
The Lady Leopards’ playoff victory will send Gee on a scouting trip to Nacogdoches for the Rusk-Center game, but at least he’ll have a chance to get a night’s rest before the journey.
“We tried to make everything as normal as we could make it for our kids,” Gee said. “Whoever is the next opponent, play to our standard all the time and our kids kind of did that. But for me? Yes, I lose a lot of sleep.”