ABILENE — State rankings obviously don’t scare the Highland girls basketball team.
After reaching the Region II-A, D-II semifinals with a 40-32 win over No. 16-ranked Water Valley, the Lady Hornets routed No. 18 Baird, 55-37, on Friday to move within one game of a first-ever trip to Austin. Highland (30-4) faced Garden City in the Region II-A, D-II finals Saturday with a berth in this week’s state tournament on the line.
Highland defeated Baird (26-7) for the second time in two meetings this season, and Friday’s win at Abilene Christian University was very similar to its 43-28 win back in November.
In both cases, a huge second quarter by Highland was critical to the final outcome.
The Lady Hornets outscored Baird 14-2 in the period on Friday, increasing their lead from 17-15 to 31-17 at intermission. Highland held Baird scoreless for over nine minutes in building a 17-point lead early in the third quarter, and held double digit leads from then on.
Sierra Allen scored 23 points for Highland, which led 42-26 at the end of three periods.
Baird narrowed it to 42-31 early in the fourth, but that was as close as the Lady Bears would get.
Highland’s swarming press was largely responsible for turning the game in its favor, often leading to points at the other end after forcing a Baird turnover.
The key 14-2 run began with a 3-pointer by Madison Moseley.
Highland coach Shea Baucom said after the game that the press was not something the Lady Hornets live and die by. But “we did a good job tonight,” he said. And Allen, it seemed, always managed to score a key basket to keep Baird from getting back in the game. Hannah Allen, her younger sister, added 15 points.
“Every time we needed a basket (Sierra) would hit one,” Baucom said. He also had praise for Lora Stewart, who had the task of guarding Baird star Brenna Coffman.
Coffman had 15 points to pace Baird, but just eight in the final three periods after scoring seven of her team’s first nine points.
Coffman’s first hoop gave the Lady Bears a 4-2 lead.
Highland ran off the next seven points to lead 9-4, but Baird rallied again for a 14-13 lead until two free throws by Sierra Allen and a basket by Hannah Allen, which started a 21-3 run that lasted into the third quarter.
Beth Richburg had eight points, all in the second half, while Moseley had five and Stewart and Sydny Helbert two each.
Highland, which is in the play-offs for the 12th straight year, faced another state-ranked team in Garden City on Saturday. The Lady Kats, who beat Eula 45-9 in their semifinal, are ranked 13th.