For the first time since 2012, the Hahnville Lady Tigers are headed to round two of the Class 5A state playoffs.
Paceley Williams scored a game-high 20 points to lead host Hahnville to a dominating 60-29 victory over West Ouachita Thursday night before a loud and proud home crowd, one that witnessed the Tigers earn their 14th consecutive victory.
“I’ve been here for four years, growing up with the program,” said Williams, a senior forward. “It’s been an up and down ride, and I’m really proud to be part of this team. We said before the season that this is a championship team, and that’s what we’re working for.”
Hahnville, 5A’s No. 7 seed, advances to face Denham Springs, which defeated East St. John in round one. Hahnville will host that matchup at 6 p.m. Monday.
Thursday’s win was Hahnville’s first win in the playoffs since the 2012 Tigers felled Denham Springs in round one of that season, 50-45. Thursday was also Hahnville’s first home playoff game since the ’12 season.
Ah’jaia Kenner scored 12 points for the Tigers (26-4). Yelah Moses scored 10 points and Kourtney Irons eight. Jill Peacock led West Ouachita, the No. 26 seed, with nine.
West Ouachita (22-13) hung tough early. With less than three minutes to go in the first quarter, the teams were tied 7-7. A 3-pointer by Danae Lorio followed by one shortly after by Irons — just before time expired — helped push Hahnville to a 16-12 lead after the first quarter.
“That gave us a little spark,” said Hahnville head coach Arrianna Smith.
But Hahnville quickly pulled away from there, and did it with the smothering full court defense the team has been known for all season. West Ouachita did not score in the second quarter until there was 3:10 remaining before halftime.
“We always start a little slow. I don’t think our nerves were that bad or anything like that … after the first few minutes, we really kicked it in,” Williams said. “That press, it brings everyone’s energy up. When someone gets a tap or steal and you’re headed the other way, it gets everyone really into the game now.”
Tigers point guard Niara Simmons took command of the offense and got the Tigers going early in the period, finding teammates inside for layups to help spark a 14-0 run to start the quarter, making it 30-14.The Tigers led 37-19 at halftime after outscoring West Ouachita 21-7 in the second.
“We were a little slow coming out, but we finally got comfortable and started making some good passes, finding our offense,” said Smith. “We changed a few things early with us being in the playoffs, but we went back to what we’d been doing before after that. I realized as long as we play our game, everything is going to be OK.”
The Tigers didn’t relent in the third quarter either, allowing just four points there to lead 49-23 and effectively put the game away entering the fourth.
Smith guided the Tigers to the postseason last year in what was her third season as head coach. That was a step forward for Hahnville – the game represented its first playoff appearance since 2012 – but it fell in its playoff opener on the road at Northshore, 67-44.
“We remembered that and we weren’t going to let it happen again,” Williams said. “As the game started today, I said we’re leaving here with a win. We got blown out last year and we aren’t having that this year.”
The team has progressed annually under Smith. Last year Hahnville earned a split district championship, while this season the Tigers went unbeaten en route to an outright district crown. She said this year’s success comes down to leadership.
“They say it takes four years to really build your program … I have four amazing seniors that understand what it takes,” Smith said. “I can get on them and they can handle it. I know they’re going to get the job done. The leadership is out there on the floor and that’s the big part about all of this.
“They understand where we are right now and how big this is. They know where they want to go and they’re excited about it.”