POTTSBORO — Having already clinched playoff spots with plenty of room to spare, there was just one last matter of business before the end of the regular season.
The Gunter Lady Tigers had their sights set on a second straight undefeated run through the 11-3A schedule.
The Pottsboro Lady Cardinals knew they essentially only had more chance to try and get a piece of the district title.
And they knew if they were going to end Gunter’s 25-game district winning streak to make that happen, it was going to take a much better offensive effort than the last time they played.
Two of the best teams in the region are now on equal footing atop the 11-3A standings after Pottsboro earned a 51-36 victory over Gunter.
“Either way this game turned out, this was a playoff game. It was a playoff atmosphere against a playoff team,” PHS head coach Aaron Bates said. “And if we want to do what we want to do this year, these are the games we need to be able to win.”
Aly Malone scored 16 points while Brayli Simpson and Palyn Reid each chipped in 11 points for Pottsboro (27-4, 10-1), which travels to Bonham on Tuesday.
Alyssa Tarpley made five three-pointers and finished with 27 points while Lindsay Esnard added four points for Gunter (22-8, 10-1), which hosts Howe on Tuesday.
With three games remaining, a slip-up against another opponent is only thing that will keep them from splitting the district crown. Gunter hadn’t lost a district contest since Pottsboro beat the Lady Tigers late in the 2019-20 season and the Lady Cardinals were in position to do so in the first meeting but went scoreless in the fourth quarter as Gunter rallied for the 32-24 victory.
Pottsboro found its stroke in this early in this one, hitting five threes during the first half to build a nearly 20-point advantage.
When it looked like Gunter was going to make a move early in the fourth quarter, Simpson and Reid produced buckets and the Lady Cardinals held the Lady Tigers to just two baskets by Tarpley in the first half of the frame.
Gunter made just 10 shots in the contest and Tarpley hit eight of them.
“We changed some things but we still did our basic stuff, just tweaked it to make it so they couldn’t tell it was coming,” Bates said. “After we ran it once or twice they knew it was coming so we could only do it a handful of times to make it work really well.”
Tarpley’s last three-pointer cut the Pottsboro lead to nine with 2:56 remaining. But single free throws from Blakely Esnard and Rhyan Pogue the rest of the way were the final points for the Lady Tigers while Malone went 8-of-8 from the line to stretch the advantage out to the final margin.
The widest gap of the game was back up at 18 points in the latter stages of the third quarter before Tarpley tried to spark a rally.
She hit four three-pointers in the frame, including a pull-up jumper a few dribbles past midcourt to get the deficit down to 38-27 heading to the final eight minutes and providing some momentum.
“I didn’t like that at all,” Bates said. “We stepped out on her and she would drive to the basket. We guarded the deep shots well and she still made them.”
Tarpley had opened the second half with a pair of threes and Lindsay Esnard also connected from deep but Reid, Malone and Tessa Delacruz were able to provide an answer.
Gunter’s offensive struggles carried over into the second quarter and the Lady Tigers had a second straight frame with just five points — all of them from Tarpley on a basket and three free throws.
Simpson and Reid led an 11-1 run to open the frame that gave Pottsboro a double-digit lead it never relinquished and Malone banked in a three-pointer with 2:07 left before the half that match the Lady Cardinals’ point total from the previous meeting with Gunter.
Simpson then connected from deep and Ava Sims made a free throw as Pottsboro took a 28-10 advantage into the locker room.
“It’s not the way either of us want to play. We don’t want to play fast. We want a very deliberate possession and so does Gunter,” Bates said. “We had to play catch-up the first game and do stuff that makes us uncomfortable and they were in that position in this one.”
Pottsboro jumped out to an 8-1 lead thanks to three-pointers from Malone and Reid and a defense which held Gunter to just a Tarpley free throw for the first six minutes.
Lindsay Esnard had one as well and Ryli Bracewell hit the first basket for the Lady Tigers — a three-pointer — with 45 seconds on the clock.
Autumn Graley followed with a pair of free throws to give the Lady Cardinals a 9-5 lead after the first quarter.
This article originally appeared on Herald Democrat: Pottsboro beats Gunter to force tie atop the District 11-3A standings