Icy roads made practice impossible throughout the past week, but that didn’t stop Fairfield from playing at its usual dominating level.
With Breyunna Dowell amassing 25 points and 19 rebounds, the No. 2 Lady Eagles overcame a slow start to pull away in the second half for a 75-49 win over Whitney in the Class 3A area playoffs Saturday at Robinson High School.
Jarahle Daniels contributed 21 points while Shadisia Brackens collected 15 points, six rebounds and four assists as Fairfield improved to 23-2 in its quest to win the 3A state championship after capturing last year’s 4A title.
“Like everybody else, we had seven days off in the snow,” said Fairfield coach Sally Whitaker. “We weren’t able to get to the school. We practiced an hour today before we got here. Things didn’t go well but they just kept playing and that’s what they had to do.”
Fairfield showed some early rust as Whitney (18-4) jumped off to a 9-1 lead in the opening minutes behind center Tabie Johnson’s six points.
But the Lady Eagles responded with a 10-0 run behind Dowell’s presence in the paint to take a 17-13 lead. With Brackens burying a 3-pointer, Fairfield took a 21-16 lead into the second quarter.
The Lady Wildcats managed to stay within single digits as Fairfield took a 36-27 halftime lead. But with Johnson and primary ballhandler Caitlyn Panuco in foul trouble, the Lady Wildcats had trouble matching Fairfield’s depth and athleticism as the second half unfolded.
“I feel it would have been different if my main ballhandler had been in there,” said Whitney coach Destiny Smith. “It showed when she left the game. But they never gave up, and we saw it out there even with the score the way it was.”
Utilizing full-court pressure, the Lady Eagles began to wear Whitney down to take control in the third quarter. Outscoring Whitney 23-6, Fairfield opened up a 59-33 lead.
Daniels opened the third quarter by burying a 3-pointer while Brackens keyed Fairfield’s defense by repeatedly getting into the passing lanes for steals that led to quick transition baskets.
Dowell controlled the paint with 10 points in the third quarter while everybody who came off the bench contributed in different ways.
“We have tremendous talent on the bench,” Whitaker said. “A lot of places they could be starters but here they’re coming off the bench and they do their job and just play, and it’s fun. They don’t care who gets the credit, they just want to win. It’s a good quality for a team to have.”
Though Whitney matched Fairfield’s 16 fourth-quarter points, the Lady Eagles’ lead was just too big to overcome.
Caitlyn Panuco led the Lady Wildcats with 14 points while Valerie Panuco scored 13 and Johnson 12, but they couldn’t match Fairfield’s deep bench and constant defensive pressure.
“They’re extremely athletic,” Smith said. “If you can’t handle pressure, it can be a problem for sure. They get a lot of their points off steals in transition.”
The Lady Eagles advanced to the regional quarterfinals where they will face the winner of the West-Academy area game, which will be played at 6 p.m. Monday at Connally High School.
The Fairfield players won’t be satisfied unless they win another state title.
“They have the bar, they’re the ones that set it,” Whitaker said. “When you have girls who want to commit to a high level and make sure the team commits to the same level, then as a coach it’s easy.”