In a game that lacked the personality and pizzazz of a typical LHSAA state semifinal contest, the Southwood Lady Cowboys advanced to next week’s LHSAA 5A state championship game following Friday’s 44-25 win against overmatched Denham Springs.
The No. 1 Lady Cowboys (32-1) used a smothering defense, limiting the No. 5 Lady Jackets (23-6) to only one field goal in the first half, to advance to the title game for a second consecutive season.
They’ll meet former district foe Natchitoches Central next weekend in Monroe’s Fant-Ewing Coliseum. Southwood will be seeking its 11th state title, but the first for this senior class.
“We had a hard time scoring tonight, but we won, and we move on,” Southwood coach Steve McDowell said. “They’re a scrappy team, but we played very good defense, and that made the difference.”
Kourtney Pennywell, Keona Favis, Aerial Robertson and Aerika Roberts were too much inside for the smaller Lady Jackets. Southwood won the rebounding battle 36-28, including nabbing nearly twice as many offensive boards as the visitors.
“It was tough inside but we knew what we had to do,” Pennywell said. “We wanted to get to that state championship game.”
Although point guard Jessy Ellis struggled early, she took over in the second quarter and allowed her team to get some distance. She finished 4-for-13 from the field but converted 8-of-10 free throws. More importantly, she dished to streaking teammates, giving them multiple easy buckets.
“I had to hit the big girls quick, and I had to go overhead more inside,” said Ellis, who led all scorers with 16 points.
Southwood didn’t play its best offensive game of the season, converting just less than 30 percent of its field goals, but its defense left few open shots for the Lady Jackets, who shot 22.2 percent for the game.
“Everything we did tonight had to do with their pressure,” Denham Springs coach Shelly LaPrarie said. “They’ll limit you to one shot, while they get multiple shots. That’s their game. And we didn’t block out well.”
Southwood led 7-3 after one quarter with the Lady Jackets hitting just three free throws. The Lady Cowboys opened the second quarter with a 7-0 run before Denham Springs’ Mary Beth Hughes nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing.
Southwood got six points from Ellis to close the half on an 8-0 run and led 22-6 at the break.
The visitors finally put together a 7-0 run in the third to get within 24-13, but didn’t get any closer.
“We played with a lot of grit to hang in there,” McDowell said. “To hold a team of that caliber to (25 points) says a lot.”
McDowell is expecting an even tougher task against NCHS next weekend.
“They’re defensive pressure is all over the place,” he said. “We’re going to have to be tough with the ball.”