Dierra Ely appreciated the symmetry of the situation.
Last year, a Lamar loss to crosstown rival Martin in the regular-season finale kept the Lady Vikings team from making the playoffs. This time around, in a win-or-go-home matchup against Martin, Lamar used a second-half rally to outlast the Lady Warriors. And in so doing, Lamar advanced further than any Lady Vikings team ever has in the basketball playoffs.
Ely, a senior, scored 20 points to help Lamar make the regional tournament for the first time in program history. The Lady Vikings went on to lose to Hurst L.D. Bell in the regional semifinals at TCU, but the long playoff run, highlighted by the team’s 39-33 victory against Martin last week at Arlington High School, made for a joyous feeling for Ely and her teammates.
“We were happy. We planned this day,” Ely said. “They made us cry when we lost to them last year. We didn’t even get to go to playoffs. This year, we were like, ‘We’re not going to be the ones crying. We’re going to be the ones crying tears of joy, but that’s about it.’ ”
Lamar coach Erinn Levels turned Ely lose against Martin. She played point guard, post and wing and helped the Lady Vikings clamp down on defense. Ely and fellow senior Dezirae Hampton took turns guarding Martin star Emily Slagle. The Lady Warriors senior scored a team-high 13 points but was constantly crowded by Lamar defenders, limiting her attempts and clean looks at the basket.
“We knew their players that wanted to score,” said Hampton, who complemented Ely’s effort with 11 points of her own. “We knew we had to shut her down in the high post.”
Despite Lamar’s defensive intensity and dominance on the glass — the Lady Vikings nearly doubled Martin in rebounds — the Lady Warriors led by three at halftime. Levels said her team’s aggressive style of play made her confident that the second half would go Lamar’s way.
“I came out at halftime and I told them to keep fighting because we were out-rebounding them but nothing was falling,” Levels said.
Ely, who will play college ball next season at Grambling, said the Lady Vikings decided at halftime that their season wasn’t going to come to an end that night at the Arlington High gym.
“At halftime we came in and had our meeting as normal, but at the end we said, ‘We aren’t done playing basketball. We don’t want this to end,’ ” she said. “We just came out and we started playing like Lamar plays.”
How Lamar played in the second half was dominant. The Lady Vikings took the lead on a 12-5 run in the third quarter. Martin kept it close, drawing to within 34-31 with just under four minutes to play. But Lamar scored the next five points and didn’t give up another score until the final seconds with the game already decided.
Hampton said that when she stepped to the free-throw line with a 37-31 lead in the final minute, she realized Lamar was going to win the game. “It’s definitely a good feeling to make history,” Hampton said. “I’ll never forget it.”
The unforgettable game featured a raucous atmosphere with fans of both teams cheering loudly throughout the tightly contested second half. Levels said Lamar players could not hear her calls at times because of the crowd noise.
Hampton described the atmosphere as crazy. Ely called it one of the best atmospheres she ever played in.
“These are the best games to go to,” Ely said. “They have a good support system. We have a good support system. You get us all in one building, it explodes and it gets you going.”