COPPELL – Early in the fourth quarter, the Plano Senior girls basketball team looked well on its way to a rerun of last year’s Class 6A bi-district playoff game against Hurst LD Bell.
Nursing a double-digit lead and having seemingly solved a stiff test from the Lady Blue Raiders.
The narrative stopped there, with Plano later clinging to a three-point edge and needing some timely free throws and defensive stops to avoid a first-round elimination and secure a 71-64 victory over Bell.
“We just didn’t follow our game plan and didn’t execute our half-court sets,” said Rodney Belcher, Plano head coach. “Every time we ran a set we got a good shot, but we just kept running up and down.
“And then they made some really big shots … but we were fortunate that we hit some timely, big shots too.”
Most of those came from the free-throw line, where Bell forced Plano to live over the final few minutes of action. Despite an overall up-and-down night from the line – shooting just 13-of-24 overall – the Lady Wildcats made enough when it mattered, fending off the Lady Blue Raiders thanks to free throws from senior Sophie Fleites and sophomore Jordyn Merritt.
Fleites, in particular, typified Plano’s night at the line. Intentionally fouled repeatedly by Bell after a few early misses in the fourth frame, the Lady Wildcats’ guard took 11 total free throws in the final quarter alone, sinking five.
However, Fleites was involved in one of the pivotal defensive stops of the game, stealing the ball and fouling out Bell super scorer Myra Gordon with 22 seconds left. Fleites went on to make both free throws and up Plano’s lead to 69-64.
“[Fleites] just stayed focused,” Belcher said. “She’s a really good free-throw shooter. I was honestly surprised that she missed the ones she missed.”
Fleites’ makes were sorely needed after Plano nearly let what was a 14-point lead earlier in the quarter slip away. In addition to spotty free-throw shooting and sluggish transition offense, the Lady Wildcats were at the mercy of a suddenly balanced Bell scoring attack.
Although Plano had its hands full with Gordon, who led all scorers with 34 points, the Lady Raiders received widespread contributions to trim Plano’s lead to 67-64 with 32 ticks remaining after free throws from Makayla Berry-Pressley.
“The supporting cast around Myra was big today and made shots to keep them in the game,” Belcher said.
Gordon herself was pretty impressive too. Despite tough defense from junior Zaria Collins, the Lady Blue Raiders’ sophomore attacked Plano relentlessly on her way to 10 made field goals and 11-of-13 makes on free throws.
“[Gordon] is so smart and savvy. She really knows how to use her body to get calls from the officials. She did a great job,” Belcher said.
Gordon scored 18 of Bell’s 25 first-half points, and eventually it appeared that Plano had solved the opponent’s one-woman show. The Lady Wildcats stifled Gordon enough times at the rim to cool down Bell’s offense, and responded with the savvy passing from senior Katie Ferrell (12 assists) to create easy looks inside for Collins and senior Emma Halverson, and led by as much as 62-48 midway through the fourth quarter.
All five of Plano’s starters scored at least nine points, led by 14 from sophomore Jordyn Merritt, 13 from Collins, 12 from Halverson and nine from Ferrell and Fleites.
Merritt came alive in the second half with 12 points, including two 3-pointers in the third quarter, while Collins and Halverson combined for 10 offensive rebounds.
“Down the stretch, Emma and Zaria did a great job crashing the glass on offense,” Belcher said. “In the playoffs, everybody has to pitch in so you can have a chance. That was how it was for both teams.
“I’m glad it went in our favor, but that was a tough game.”
The Lady Wildcats now look to improve on last year’s playoff run, which ended in the area round. They’ll return to that same stage later this week, drawing the winner of Tuesday’s DeSoto-Copperas Cove clash.