On their way to a cakewalk Tuesday night, the Latta Lady Panthers nearly ended up with a pie in the face.

Latta played a virtually flawless first half against Tishomingo to grab an imposing 39-12 lead at intermission, then saw the Lady Indians force 17 turnovers and score 57 points over the final two periods. In the end, the Lady Panthers escaped with a 72-69 victory that wasn’t secured until Rebekah Ritchie’s desperation 60-footer clanged off the back iron of the basket at the buzzer.

“It was a tale of two halves,” Latta coach David Tinkler said after watching his club win for the sixth time in 10 games this season despite playing the area’s toughest schedule. “We didn’t do a very good job of handling their pressure, and they outplayed us in the second half.

“At the end, we were playing not to lose — we got a little too tentative,” he added. “I hope this is one of those games we can learn from.”

Latta used an amazing 22-0 run in a span of less than five minutes to grab a 28-4 lead just 14 seconds into the second quarter, and Tishomingo — which didn’t have a field goal in the first period and hit only three in 14 attempts in the first half — couldn’t get closer before intermission. Chelsey Bennett’s short jumper at the buzzer wrapped up the remarkable first half for the Lady Panthers, but Latta faced an entirely different team to start the third quarter.

Ritchie, Shanea Flowers, Taloa Williford and Latoya Colbert combined to score all of Tishomingo’s points in a 32-point third-quarter barrage that trimmed the lead to 57-44, and the Lady Indians sliced the advantage to single digits at 60-51 on a pair of free throws by Paulette Pamplin (her only points of the second half) with 6:26 to play.

Latta’s lead dwindled to three when Tiffany Wood got a steal and converted a breakaway layup on the other end to make it 60-57 with 5:05 still remaining, but Tishomingo couldn’t get closer until the final seconds of the game.

Freshman Skyler Jenson — who scored 12 points to finish in double figures for the seventh straight game and the eighth time in 10 contests overall for the Lady Panthers — drained a 15-footer off a Bennett assist with 3:54 left to make it 62-57, and Latta finally appeared to get a little breathing room when Jenson sank a pair of pressure free throws to increase the lead to 69-62 with only 1:23 remaining.

Tish had one last rally left, however, using a 7-2 run to cut Latta’s advantage to 71-69 on Flowers’ fourth 3-pointer of the game with five seconds to play. The Lady Indians got a time out with 4.4 seconds showing, and Bennett was fouled with 3.7 seconds remaining after taking the inbounds pass. She sank the first free throw but missed the second, and Ritchie grabbed the rebound, dribbled to near midcourt and launched a prayer that came within inches of tying the game as time expired.

Just a few minutes earlier, though, a last-second shot was the last thing on the minds of Tinkler and his club.

The Lady Panthers completely dominated the first two quarters, going 11-for-18 in the first period (with six different players getting baskets) and hitting six of their 10 field goal attempts in the second, and they had only three turnovers before halftime.

Bennett scored nine of her 23 points in the opening half, and Jenson (who finished with a game-high seven rebounds) and Charissa Smith (who had been fighting a sore back but scored 13 points off the bench on 6-of-6 shooting) had eight apiece by intermission.

Tish, meanwhile, managed only four free throws in the first quarter and three field goals in only six attempts in the second, but the Lady Indians unleashed a pressing defense and an explosive offense in the final two periods that were dormant in the first half.

Flowers finished with 23 points to share game honors with Bennett (who was in double figures for the ninth time in 10 games this season), and she had a pair of 3-pointers while scoring 13 points in the Tishomingo’s big third quarter. Williford, who scored 14 of her 17 points in the second half and had a team-high five rebounds, was 8-for-10 from the floor, but she managed only one free throw in seven attempts, and the Lady Indians as a team hit only half of their 28 charity shots while Latta went 16-for-24 from the line.

Colbert was also in double figures with 14 points (10 in the second half), and Tishomingo as a team was 25-for-50 from the field, including a sparkling 22-for-36 after intermission.

Latta cooled off after its remarkable first half but still hit 27-of-44 field goals. Casey Morgan had another solid game replacing Smith in the starting lineup, finishing with nine points and four rebounds, and she had a big basket and free throw in the fourth quarter to help the Lady Panthers hold off the late Tish rally. Beth Nevland hit three field goals in the first quarter but took only one shot the rest of the way and finished with seven points and five assists.

Bennett had one of her best overall games of the season, dishing out seven assists and adding two steals and two rebounds to go with her 23 points (on 7-of-12 shooting), and she hit four key free throws in the final period. She also did a good job of bringing the ball up the floor against the Tishomingo press late in the game.