Sterlington 46, Pickering 42

STERLINGTON — Sterlington opened up a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter and withstood a late Pickering surge on its way to a 46-42 Class 2A first-round playoff victory Thursday night.

In a game that was close throughout, the 16th-seeded Lady Panthers (24-8) and No. 17 Red Devils (20-14) were tied at 13 at the end of the first quarter and 24 at halftime. It was even at 30 late in the third quarter, too, before Mimi Gray's deep 3-pointer from the top of the circle enabled Sterlington to carry a 33-30 advantage into the final frame.

Capping a 9-0 run, Sterlington used three straight transition baskets — one by Kaela Mullins, two by Gray — to build a 39-30 spread with 5:23 to play.

"Pickering's a good defensive team. They played man-to-man real well," Sterlington coach Mike Crumpler said. "I ask a lot of Saige (Doty), Kaela (Mullins) and Mimi (Gray), and sometimes they try to take off a little on the offensive end. The way they were denying and ball-hawking, we couldn't get into our sets. We realized we had to get back in transition before they got set up on defense. We made three or four layups and pushed it to nine. We didn't get much after that, but it made a big difference."

Though the senior-less Red Devils would make a run, the nine-point hole ultimately proved to be too deep.

"We started doing stuff we don't normally do," Pickering coach Robert Carter said of the pivotal stretch to start the fourth quarter. "We started lobbing the ball inside and dribbling into the corner. That's not our game. Our game is driving the lane and shooting a layup or getting a foul."

Regaining its composure, Pickering quickly closed the gap to 39-35 on Kierra Sanderlin's fadeaway, a Mahogany Griffin free throw and Breanna Redden's steal and layup.

Sterlington countered with Skye Doty's basket from underneath and Gray's layup on the two-on-one break to go up 43-35 with 3:14 remaining.

Redden's rebound bucket and Sanderlin's three-point play shaved the margin to 43-40 at 1:42.

After consecutive turnovers by the Lady Panthers, Redden's layup drew the visitors within 43-42 with 36 seconds on the clock.

Seconds later, Sterlington avoided a turnover in the back court, but maintained possession on the side out.

"I thought it was going to be just like it was," said Crumpler of the tense finish. "I thought them being so young might play to our advantage, but they hung in there. When we went up nine, I was thinking to myself, 'One more bucket might demoralize them.' But they never gave up. They slapped the ball away from us a couple of times, and if the girl doesn't step out of bounds on that one play, they have a chance to take the lead."

Sterlington ran the clock down to :18.9 before Mullins sank the front end of a two-shot foul.

Pickering was unable to get a shot off on its final possession before Gray sank two free throws with one second remaining to give the Lady Panthers a four-point win.

"That was the best defense played against us all year," Carter said. "A lot of people have played a 1-2-2 against us, but tonight, we couldn't get the ball inside. I should have known from seeing all those low scores that it was going to be a low-scoring game."

Sterlington got off to a fast start. Saige Doty set up Madeline Rogers on the break to give the Lady Panthers a 13-6 lead, but Pickering responded with a 10-0 flurry.

Sanderlin's 3-pointer leveled the score at 13 at the end of the opening quarter, and the Red Devils sank 3-of-4 free throws to take their first lead early in the second period.

With the Lady Panthers trailing 24-20, Gray made 4-of-5 from the line in the final 1:15 of the half to square the game at intermission.

Pickering matched its biggest lead at 28-24 early in the third quarter on two buckets by Redden off of Sanderlin assists.

Sterlington soon regained the lead on a pair of Saige Doty baskets and Mullins' transition layup.

Griffin set up Sanderlin underneath to tie the game for the final time at 30-30.

Gray accounted for eight of her team-high 18 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Lady Panthers.

Only four Red Devils contributed in the scoring column. Sanderlin, an eighth-grader, led all scorers with 20 points on 5-of-5 free throw shooting and Redden was responsible for 18.

"I was scared of 10 (Griffin), and I knew 20 (Sanderlin) was good, but I didn't know 33 (Redden) was that good," Crumpler said.

Facing its second straight District 3-2A foe, the Lady Panthers travel to LeCompte for the second round to take on No. 1 seed Rapides.

Notes: Sterlington advances to the second round for the first time since 2012. Prior to Thursday night, the Lady Panthers had made four straight opening round exits, including a 52-43 loss at Rapides last season. ... Sterlington won back-to-back first round home games under coach Darlene Eubanks, defeating Baton Rouge Episcopal 55-44 as the No. 14 seed in 2011, and knocking off Thomas Jefferson 58-47 as the No. 16 seed in 2012. ... Sterlington made just 8-of-20 free throws. Gray was 7-for-11, while the remainder of the team was 1-for-9. ... Sanderlin and Redden were a combined 9-of-10 from the stripe as the Red Devils were 11-of-16 as a team. ... Pickering's starting lineup consisted of a junior, two sophomores, a freshman and an eighth-grader.

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BOX SCORE

Pickering ........ 13 11 6 12—42

Sterlington ......13 11 9 13—46

PICKERING (20-14) — Kierra Sanderlin 20, Breanna Redden 18, Mahogany Griffin 3, Moriah Jones 1.

STERLINGTON (24-8) — Mimi Gray 18, Kaela Mullins 9, Saige Doty 8, Madeline Rogers 6, Michaela Waters 3, Skye Doty 2.

Three-point goals — Pickering 1 (Sanderlin), Sterlington 2 (Gray, Waters). Total fouls — Pickering 18, Sterlington 18. Free throw shooting — Pickering 11-16, Sterlington 8-20. Fouled out — none. Technicals — none.

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CLASS 2A STATE PLAYOFFS

First Round

Rapides 69, Lakeside 38

Sterlington 46, Pickering 42

Lakeview 79, Springfield 29

Mamou 60, South Plaquemines 49

Red River 100, General Trass 5

Ferriday 52, Pine 26

Kinder 50, Mangham 38

Rayville 63, Loreauville 28

North Caddo 81, Mentorship 48

DeQuincy 51, Rosepine 43

Oakdale 50, French Settlement 33

Madison Prep 58, Welsh 35

Doyle 78, Bunkie 41

Jonesboro-Hodge 66, West St. John 41

Many 50, W.L. Cohen 43

Lake Arthur 79, East Feliciana 26

Second Round

No. 16 Sterlington at No. 1 Rapides

No. 9 Lakeview at No. 8 Mamou

No. 12 Ferriday at No. 5 Red River

No. 13 Kinder at No. 4 Rayville

No. 3 North Caddo at No. 19 DeQuincy

No. 11 Oakdale at No. 6 Madison Prep

No. 10 Jonesboro-Hodge at No. 7 Doyle

No. 15 Many at No. 2 Lake Arthur