With her team clinging to a lead in the final half-minute Friday, Haley Dennard stepped up to the free-throw line – twice.
The senior point guard calmly drained three of her four attempts, including one with 3.4 seconds left to push the Decatur lead to four and secure the 47-43 victory over the Krum Lady Bobcats in the District 9-3A tiebreaker at the Sanger High School gym.
“I knew how important they were,” Dennard said. “We are joking around, but we are always saying that free throws win games. Even though we are joking about it, it’s the truth.”
With the victory, Decatur secured the top seed from District 9-3A in the Class 3A Region II playoffs. The Lady Eagles will begin the playoffs Wednesday against the fourth-place team from 10-3A, Aubrey, at 7 p.m. at Flower Mound Marcus.
To clinch the top seed, the Lady Eagles needed wins on back-to-back nights over Gainesville and Krum.
“Playing back-to-back is tough. It’s not what we wanted to do. But they ended up doing it,” said Decatur coach Billy Garner. “They took advantage of the situation, played hard and won it outright.”
The championship comes after the team missed the playoffs last year.
“I’m so proud of us. We come a long way from not making the playoffs last year to now district champs, which is an amazing feeling,” Dennard said. “Even from losing to [Krum] the first time in district, and Gainesville – we overcame that, stepped it up and did what we needed to do.”
Friday, the Lady Eagles needed a second-half comeback. Krum held Decatur to four points and just one field goal in the second quarter to take an 18-14 halftime lead.
“We talked at halftime that they pushed us around a little bit,” Garner said. “We responded to that physical play better in the second half. The first half, we kinda did what they wanted us to instead of what we needed.”
Decatur also struggled to contain Krum’s Kylee Myers, who led all scorers with 18 points and also grabbed 12 rebounds.
Decatur used a 7-2 run to fight back from its largest deficit of the game with 3:40 left in the third. Makayla Mayfield tied the score at 30 going into the fourth quarter.
Mayfield, Hannah Dunning and Macen Stripling came off the bench to give the Lady Eagles a lift in the second half. The trio scored 13 of Decatur’s 33 second-half points and grabbed eight boards.
“Mak came in and did a great job. Macen did a great job. Hannah played really well. She was lights-out,” Garner said.
The trio also played a large part in a stepped-up defensive effort by the Lady Eagles in the fourth quarter. Decatur forced seven Krum turnovers in the final frame.
“We knew we had to keep them from scoring and do everything in our power to not let them score and get the ball back,” Mayfield said.
With her team trailing by one, Mayfield made a steal and took the ball in for the layup to put the Lady Eagles up 40-39 with 3:33 left.
Katie Isham’s bank shot and two free throws stretched Decatur’s lead to 44-39 with 2:28 left.
Isham finished with 10 points.
Decatur protected the lead, forcing three turnovers in Krum’s next four possessions.
“We played really well and picked it up,” Garner said. “I told them if you want to be the No. 1 seed we have to pick it up. They did. They responded. It seems they’ve been doing that all year.”
Dennard protected the lead at the free-throw line. As a team, Decatur went 13-for-19 from the charity stripe.
Shelby Drews led the Lady Eagles with 11 points and eight rebounds. Her four first-quarter points helped Decatur to the early lead. She added seven in the third to help the Lady Eagles start their comeback.