Relentless. Unyielding. Smothering.
Through two rounds of the postseason, the Hahnville defense can be described in those terms, and far more. And in large part because of it, the Lady Tigers are headed to their first state quarterfinal since 2008 after beating Denham Springs 68-38 in the second round of the Class 5A girls basketball playoffs Monday night in Boutte. The Tigers will travel Thursday to face No. 2 seeded Benton at 6 p.m.
No. 7 seed Hahnville (27-4) has won 15 in a row and hasn’t lost a game in the new year — its last loss came in its final game of 2019 against Northshore, one of just four Tiger losses this season.
Denham Springs (18-10) was responsible for another one of those losses, 61-58 winners over Hahnville on Nov. 25. The Yellow Jackets saw a much different Hahnville team on this night, however. In many ways, the 10th seeded visitors ran into a buzzsaw.
“Defense is our bread and butter,” said Hahnville’s Yelah Moses, who scored a game-high 18 points. “I was hyped. I knew we had to come out strong and come out and play defense … we had the advantage of having two home games, we’d have our whole support system out here cheering for us, so we had to come out here and win. I wasn’t playing for myself, but for my team.
“I have no words. The past four years I’ve been here, we’ve never made it this far.”
Danae Lorio scored 17 for Hahnville and Kori Joseph scored 12. Niara Simmons added eight.
Hahnville blistered the Jackets early, outscoring Denham Springs 15-3 in the first quarter — one of five times HHS has allowed single digit points in a quarter through two postseason games.
Lorio and Joseph hit jumpers to start the second quarter, the latter from 3-point range. Then Lorio scored on a drive and Hahnville led 22-3 before Denham’s Maddie Howell finally broke the run with a basket.
But the big lead put Denham in a bind on defense. Hahnville pulled the ball out and forced the Jackets to extend their defense to man-to-man, or allow time to drain from the clock. Denham did that, and Joseph scored on back to back baskets, the latter off a Lorio drive and dish.
“We’re very quick as a team,” Lorio said. “So the majority of the time, teams play us in zone because we’re too quick for them to guard man-to-man.”
Joseph sunk a floater just before half to put Hahnville ahead 30-11 at the break. Denham was able to find some traction early in the third quarter and trade baskets with the Tigers for the first three minutes of the period. But after a Howell 3-pointer, the Tigers held Denham to two points and no field goals for the final 4:45 of the quarter, and led 49-23 heading into the fourth quarter.
Hahnville kept the game in the open court. Denham found no answers for the Hahnville press, which Tigers’ coach Arrianna Smith said had a few new wrinkles since the Jackets saw it last in November.
“We saw (in the first game) they didn’t like pressure and got aggravated with it at that point in time. They didn’t experience this press … we made it a bit special, a little harder to break down, we’re playing harder (in the press) and they didn’t get the chance to experience it back then, whether it was the full court man to man or the zone press,” Smith said.
In the first game between the teams, Trenishia Muse of Denham led all scorers with 24 points. Hahnville held her to five points on Monday. Denham’s Kate Thompson scored 23 in the November matchup, but just five in the rematch.
The Tigers’ first round win was its first playoff victory since 2012. Now, they’re onto their first quarterfinal in 12 years. Hahnville made a run to the state semifinals in 5A as the 10th seed in 2008.
But Hahnville didn’t reach that ’08 semifinal after back-to-back 30-plus victory margins. This team has.
“This is amazing,” said Joseph. “I feel like when I play good, it’s for (the HHS seniors) because they’re leaving after this season and they haven’t been there yet. We really want to do this for them. We feel like everyone’s supporting us, because it’s been so long since we’ve made it here.”
Smith said she knew her team gave maximum effort to build its big first half lead. Her biggest concern at that point was her players having the energy to finish strong.
“It’s tough, because I know they get tired,” Smith said. “They want to stay out there and I try to save them for four quarters. I told them at halftime, we’ve got to do this for two more quarters and we did. I didn’t want them to stop fighting and settle or get complacent, and they did exactly what I asked.”
The Tigers don’t seem to have any complacency in them these days. HHS has outscored its two playoff foes 128-67 and haven’t lost a single postseason quarter.
“We’re gonna ride this journey out. I think we’re ready,” Smith said.