Postseason newcomers fuel Lady Panthers' upset of Richardson
THE COLONY -- Of the 16 players on the Plano East girls basketball team roster, 14 made their playoff debut Tuesday night against Richardson.
Two of the game's biggest plays were made by a pair of those aforementioned newcomers and proved the difference in the Lady Panthers' 47-46 bi-district playoff wins.
"With what we've been through this season, I think every win means something," said LaGwenna Morrow, East head coach, "but just the fact that we're in the playoffs with the structure of what we have shows how resilient we are."
That resiliency was tested plenty in the waning stages of Tuesday's contest as Richardson chipped away at a 42-33 Lady Panther lead inside the final 7:30 of the fourth quarter.
Creeping to 45-44 inside the final minute of action, the Lady Eagles claimed a 46-45 lead with 45 seconds left in the game after junior Shaylan Coleman converted a midcourt steal into a layup.
The Lady Panthers didn't rush their response, but eventually made their move after junior Letty Bornstad rebounded her own miss and scored on an off-balance putback to nudge East ahead, 47-46, with eight seconds remaining.
"I couldn't have done this without my teammates," Bornstad said. "They do a great job spreading out the floor. That shot was just a little lucky."
Following a timeout, Coleman bolted up the court and carved her way into the lane, only to be stripped by East freshman Daria McCutcheon, who secured the loose ball as the clock expired.
"The last timeout that we took with 59 seconds left was just to settle them down," Morrow said. "Once we settled down, we got an opportunity for a better shot. Letty did a great job getting that rebound and Daria made a strong defensive play in the end."
Not too shabby for a Lady Panthers squad that has now won six of their last nine games after starting District 10-5A 0-4. That momentum carried over into Tuesday, with the Lady Panthers making their first notable push midway through the second quarter.
Bornstad, who led the Lady Panthers with 13 points, keyed the surge with a pair of corner 3-pointers to give East an 18-12 lead. Richardson countered with a 10-2 run to close out the first half, converting transition offense into an eventual 22-20 advantage at the break.
East regained control with 5:31 to go in the third quarter following a 3-pointer by McCutcheon, who scored eight in the win. A technical foul on Richardson after the make sent East senior Jordan Welch to the line where she made 1-of-2 for a 25-24 lead.
Senior Jasmine Caston followed with a lay-in for a 27-24 lead and the first of her seven points on a night when Richardson's speed and length hassled East around the rim all game long.
"Richardson did a very good job defensively," Morrow said. "That altered how we were shooting the ball. I still think we didn't settle as much as we needed to and I think that could have helped give us more of a cushion, but a win's a win."
The Lady Eagles compiled six steals and seven blocks in defeat, with Coleman stealing four and blocking four in addition to scoring 10 points and dishing out three assists.
The point guard knocked down a floater in the lane to pull Richardson to 35-33 before East sophomore Doneesha Corbin converted a baseline jumper for a 37-33 cushion the Lady Panthers carried into the fourth quarter.
Thirty seconds into the final stanza, Caston sunk a corner 3-pointer for a 42-33 lead before Richardson rattled off a 7-0 run that included five points by freshman Brianna Lester, who scored 11 points total.
A Caston putback and Welch free throw set the stage for a wild final minute, with the Lady Panthers ultimately prevailing for their first trip past the bi-district round since the 2010-11 season.
"This really brings up our confidence and is huge for the team," Bornstad said. "We've had so many injuries this year but we've come back strong and we've still acted like a sisterhood and a family. This is a great win for us."
Now in the area round, East meets Mesquite Horn Thursday or Friday at a time and place to be determined.