Something unusual was happening on the west end of Loyola’s basketball arena on Thursday night in the opening round of the LHSAA girls Class 4A state playoff matchup with Leesville.
There appeared to be a vortex over the goal the Lady Flyers were trying desperately to toss basketballs into. Oh, they eventually switched to the opposite end and escaped the Lady Wampus Cats with a gut-wrenching 62-55 victory, but the beauty of the win was lost somewhere in missed field goal opportunities and multiple turnovers created by the visitors.
“We definitely got off to a bad start and they kept hitting their shots,” said Loyola coach Kyle Tanner. “They got out to a big lead and we had to fight a long way back. It took us three and a half quarters to get there.”
The Lady Flyers (19-13) didn’t snag their first lead in the contest until junior Amy Smith fired in a 3-pointer from just to the right of the key with 4:45 left in the contest. Leesville’s Keke Culbert returned the favor on the other end moments later, but Allyson Ruben scored under the bucket to give the Lady Flyers the lead for good with about four minutes to play.
The Lady Flyers have now won a first-round playoff game in 17 of the last 19 years with the two losses coming on the road. They advance to play Salmen, an 89-37 winner over Belaire, and 6-foot-5 center Kalani Brown, a Baylor signee.
“It was a frustrating game because we just didn’t come out with the intensity they had,” said junior forward Amber Smith, who poured in 22 points on the night. “I think they thought they were going to beat us because they saw a bunch of small people. But we got some big shots from Amy and Sydney (Mouser).”
The Lady Cats (18-10) lost despite a 23-point effort from Culbert, along with 12 from Zakeia Collins and 11 from Linda Rogers.
Loyola couldn’t buy a bucket in the early going, while the Lady Cats couldn’t miss. Leesville shooters nailed all five of their 3-pointers in the first quarter in building a 19-9 advantage. But that turned around after the visitors led 41-35 going into the final quarter.
“We had a couple of mental lapses in the fourth quarter that allowed them to get some easy buckets,” Leesville coach Eric Guidry said. “Most of the game went how we drew it up, but that (Amber Smith) is tough to handle. We tried to keep ball pressure on her.”
Amy Smith kept the game close early with a pair of 3-pointers, while Mouser hit one with about six minutes to play to knot the game at 44.
“They came out shooting big shots over us and nobody would step out on the ball, so I went down the court and felt like I needed to step up for my team,” Amy Smith said. “When they came out shooting good, I was kinda nervous, cause it didn’t seem the game was going our way. But coach told us to keep the intensity up and we did.”