The Huntsville Item / Gene Schallenberg / Photo: Tom Waddill / Houston — In the opening minutes, the Huntsville girls played exactly the way they needed to.
Having top-ranked Beaumont Ozen on the ropes in the early going, the Lady Hornets knew that they had an upset brewing. It was just too early to peak against the undefeated Lady Panthers.
A victory and a third straight trip to the Region III tournament wasn’t in the cards as the Lady Hornets, despite holding a 23-point advantage, could not keep Ozen down for long and fell in Tuesday’s regional quarterfinals 70-61.
“It was ours, but we gave up,” junior Maya Perry said. “We really could have beat this team. If we would have kept up our momentum, we probably could have beat them.”
As soon as the game began, the Lady Hornets looked like a team on a mission. Whether it was on offense or defense, Huntsville was clicking on all cylinders.
Immediately after Huntsville won the opening tip, Perry, who scored a team-high 21 points, kick-started the Lady Hornets with a swish from 3-point range. Once Ozen, which improved to 33-0, countered with a layup by junior Sanquiesha Rawls, Huntsville went on a tear.
Getting turnovers off of their full-court press, Huntsville was able to score quick buckets.
Lady Hornets senior post Breanna Fuller converted a pair of layups near the hoop. Fellow senior Daquayla Terry then made a layup off a fast break and Perry drilled another trey.
Just like that, Huntsville had taken a 12-2 advantage.
But the Lady Hornets weren’t done.
Huntsville scored the next eight points, including a fadeaway jumper by senior Ceidra Coleman that capped the Lady Hornets’ 17-0 run that gave them a 20-2 lead.
The run continued as Huntsville scored eight of the next 11 points, including a third 3-pointer by Perry, to jump ahead 28-5.
Anything that could’ve gone Hunstville’s way did, at least in the first 5 1/2 minutes.
“We wanted to keep our pressure up, but we didn’t bring the trap like we normally do. Things started off pretty good,” Lady Hornets coach Jay Oliphant said.
Then everything started going downhill.
After a couple of timeouts to talk things over, Ozen straightened its game out and fast.
The Lady Panthers’ guards split Huntsville’s defense and made their way to the basket, and eventually to the free-throw line.
In the final 2 1/2 minutes of the first period, Ozen scored 15 unanswered points to claw to within single digits.
“We were just turning it over,” Perry said.
In the second quarter, it didn’t get much better as the Lady Hornets started to get into foul trouble. Coleman already had two fouls in the first, but both Fuller and sophomore guard Demi Turner each picked up foul No. 2 early in the second. Then, midway through the quarter, Coleman picked up her third foul.
Due to the foul trouble that several Lady Hornets were in, Huntsville had to rely on its backups, but couldn’t get much production and much-needed separation.
The Lady Hornets managed to match bucket for bucket with Ozen, but the Lady Panthers stepped on the accelerator late in the second. Ozen took advantage of Huntsville turnovers and closed out the second quarter on a 17-4 run to take a 41-40 lead — their first of the game — at the break.
“We also had girls get into foul trouble, which is always big,” Oliphant said. “The girls that came in, my reserves didn’t do too well tonight. I thought we were going to be able to go into halftime with the lead, but with turnovers and miscues, we didn’t.”
At the onset of the third, the Lady Hornets came out blazing. Through the first four minutes of the period, Huntsville’s defense clamped down on Ozen, which provided an opening for the Lady Hornets. Huntsville retook the lead early in the third on a layup by Perry and stretched its lead to 48-43 to seemingly take firm hold of the momentum once again.
But it didn’t last.
Thanks to layups by Breona Sylvester, Bealoved Brown and Asia Booker, Ozen grabbed a 52-48 lead with 2:42 to go in the third.
The Lady Hornets had a prime opportunity to knot the game at 52, but Fuller and Coleman fired blanks at the free-throw line.
“I tell these girls a lot of times that in these games, you need to stop the bleeding,” Oliphant said. “If you get to the free-throw line and make those free throws, that stops it. We weren’t able to do that and the outcome is what it is.”
Ozen closed out the final two minutes on a 9-1 run to take a 12-point lead into the final quarter.
“They came out and pressed us and for some reason, that gave us some problems tonight. Give credit to them. They forced turnovers,” Oliphant said.
No matter how hard they tried, the Lady Hornets couldn’t really cut into the deficit that much in the fourth, only getting to within nine points on several occasions.
The Lady Panthers move on to the Region III semifinals where they’ll face Manvel, which defeated Houston Wheatley 79-47 in Tuesday’s regional quarterfinal contest.