BALLINGER — They may not be state-ranked, but the Highland girls basketball team knows how to take down a top-25 opponent.
When the Lady Hornets got in foul trouble in the second half while trying to protect a lead, they relied on two Ds — defense and a very effective delay game — and clutch free throw shooting to secure a 40-32 victory over No. 16-ranked Water Valley on Tuesday at Ballinger High School.
Highland (29-4) will face Baird in the regional semifinals at Abilene Christian University at 7 p.m. Friday — a team the Lady Hornets defeated 43-28 back in late November.
Highland held Water Val-ley (25-6) to just three first-half field goals. But Water Valley was 10-0f-16 at the line and trailed just 23-17, then tied the game at 26 with a 9-3 run in the third quarter. But Highland was back in control by the end of the period as both Lora Stewart and Beth Richburg scored for a 31-26 lead.
The Lady Hornets lost their top scorer this season, Sierra Allen, when she got her fifth foul with 4:54 left. So they turned to defense and a delay game and made it pay by hitting 7-of-8 at the line down the stretch.
Water Valley was held to single digits in all four quarters by Highland’s defense. The Lady Hornets led 13-9 after one period.
Stewart had nine points to pace Highland, including a trey that broke the 26-26 tie with 54.1 seconds left in the third quarter. Allen had eight points, Sydny Helbert seven, Richburg six and Madison Moseley and Han-nah Allen five apiece.
Highland, the District 13-A, Division II champion, is in the playoffs for the 12th straight year. This season marks the fifth time during that stretch for the team to at least advance to the regional semifinals, and two more wins this weekend will send them to Austin.
The Lady Hornets, after receiving a first-round bye, defeated Zephyr 48-29 to begin their playoff run.
“I was very proud of our defense tonight,” said coach Shea Baucom. “It’s something we take pride in.”