The Benton Lady Tigers advanced to the Class 4A semifinals for the second straight year with a 60-42 victory over the South Lafourche Lady Tarpons on Thursday night before a packed house at Benton.
Benton (33-3), the No. 1 seed, will face No. 5 A.J. Ellender (23-10), a 48-41 winner over No. 4 South Terrebonne (25-5), in the semifinals at the Marsh Madness state tournament next week in Alexandria.
South Lafourche, the No. 8 seed and a semifinalist last season, finished the season 23-8.
Benton coach Mary Ward said heading back to Alexandria for the second year in a row is a “huge deal.” In 1992, 27 years ago, Ward led Airline to the Class 5A state title there.
“I think that was a lot of the pressure I had all year,” Ward said. “I only got there in my playing career one time. Just the pressure of, can we get it back? You have to have so many things go your way just to get back. You have to be good and you have to have some luck along the way.
“I’m just glad we’re getting another chance to go back. And it’s still a storybook ending. We’re back in Alexandria, 27 years later, and we’re hopefully going to have the outcome we had 27 years ago.”
Thursday’s game was a physical battle with foul calls few and far between.
“It was probably the roughest game I’ve seen on both ends,” Ward said. “It was definitely a contact game.”
Ward said that it was difficult to make adjustments.
“You just had to say, ‘Be tough,’ ” she said. “There’s not really much you can do.”
Both teams only had one team foul in the second half going into the fourth quarter. Benton had just four in the game.
Junior guard Qua Chambers led Benton with 24 points. Emily Ward, who sat out the first two playoff games after injuring her left ankle in practice on Feb. 12, scored 20 points. Dana Wainwright added eight and Alisa Harris seven.
“You could probably sit there and say something positive about each kid that went out there,” Ward said. “I think each kid that went out, it was like, ‘Oh my God, they made a huge play,’ ”
In addition to those already mentioned, Abbie Wynn and Abby Hines also made big contributions with their hustle and defensive play.
Ward was obviously still in some pain, noticeably limping at times. She turned in a gutsy performance on both ends of the floor.
“Her being out there is unbelievable, where we were nine days ago to where she was tonight,” Mary Ward said. “If she doesn’t play it’s probably a little different, not necessarily the outcome but it’s definitely a different ball game.”
Ward said the ultimate difference was the Lady Tigers’ strong defensive effort.
“We played tough, tough defense,” she said. “And we played a defense that we usually don’t play as much, kind of went towards the man, and we executed it perfectly.”
Benton and South Lafourche played on basically even terms for most of the first half.
With the game tied at 21, Benton took control with a 9-0 run over the final three minutes.
Ward started it with a putback.
After the Lady Tarpons missed a 3-pointer, the ball was knocked around. As she was diving for the ball, Hines slapped it to Ward, who was standing at halfcourt. She passed to Wainwright, who scored underneath to make it 25-21.
Wainwright was fouled but missed the free throw. Chambers was there to get the rebound and put it back in.
Harris then made a steal and was fouled attempting a layup. She made the first and missed the second. Chambers controlled the rebound near the sideline and passed it to Wainwright underneath. She missed, got the rebound and scored to make it 30-21.
Benton outscored South Lafourche 16-4 in the quarter.
“I thought we finished out that quarter pretty good,” Mary Ward said.
Benton scored the first five points of the second half, including a three by Ward, to take a 35-21 lead.
South Lafourche got as close as eight in the third quarter, but Benton finished strong and led 44-31 going into the fourth.
The Lady Tigers extended the lead to 18. The Lady Tarpons hit a couple of quick 3-pointers to get within 12, but they could get no closer.
Benton started effectively milking the clock with about five minutes left with Ward, Anderson and Chambers dribbling in and out and passing to each other.
With just the one team foul entering the fourth quarter, it took South Lafourche some time to get Benton to the free throw line.
When the Lady Tigers finally got there, they made their free throws down the stretch.
MaKayla Bynum, who hit three 3-pointers, led South Lafourche with 11 points. She hit two 3s in the first quarter to help the Lady Tarpons build a 17-14 lead.