WHITEHOUSE -- The 14th-ranked Tatum Lady Eagles got off to a strong start in Friday night's Class 2A area-round playoff against Palestine Westwood, and held off the pesky Lady Panthers for a 45-36 victory at Wildcat Arena.

Tatum (27-3) will face the winner of Saturday's game between Crockett and Harmony next week in the Region III quarterfinals. The winner of that one will advance to the regional tournament at SFA in Nacogdoches.

Palestine Westwood's Alexis Hatten puts up a shot against Tatum during their Class 2A area playoff Friday night in Whitehouse. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Senior post Kaylah Starling and junior guard Alexes Bell did most of the heavy lifting for Tatum. Starling poured in a game-high 20 points to go with three rebounds, four blocks and four steals. Bell knocked down three 3-pointers and finished with 15 points, five steals and two assists.

Tatum's duo not only combined for 35 of the Lady Eagles' 45 points, but also accounted for nine of the team's 19 steals as Tatum's full-court defensive pressure gave Westwood (14-15) fits all night.

Efficiency on offense was also a key for Tatum, which assisted on 10 of its 16 field goals. Senior point guard Daziah Adams was responsible for seven of those assists and added four steals.

Tatum built a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter before Westwood went on a 14-2 run that trimmed the deficit to eight points -- 42-34 -- with 2:16 remaining. But it was too little, too late for the Lady Panthers, who dug themselves a hole by committing 24 first-half turnovers.

Tatum's Alexes Bell's shot is blocked by Palestine Westwood's Alexis Hatten during their Class 2A area playoff Friday night in Whitehouse. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Senior forward Mi'Kayla Benson led Westwood with 11 points, along with six rebounds and two assists. Natali Muniz connected on a trio of 3-pointers to finish with nine points to go with three rebounds, four steals and two assists.

Westwood didn't get to the free-throw line often, and when the Lady Panthers did, they made just 1 of 8 attempts. Tatum, meanwhile, was 9 of 14 from the charity stripe.

Tatum raced out to a 12-0 lead on a pair of 3-pointers by Bell, two baskets from Starling and a steal and layup by Ro'Nishia Simpson. The Lady Eagles stretched their lead to 19-3 early in the second quarter before going into halftime with a 23-9 advantage.

The second half was much more competitive, but Tatum went up 40-20 on Starling's conventional 3-point play early in the fourth quarter. That's when Westwood began to make its move.

The Lady Panthers made six of their next seven shots and pulled to within eight points at 42-34 on Alexis Hatten's putback off an offensive rebound with 2:16 remaining. Westwood could only muster one more field goal, which came with 14 seconds to play, the rest of the game.

Tatum's Alexes Bell works her way around Palestine Westwood's Jemelia Thomas during their Class 2A area playoff Friday night in Whitehouse. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

No. 14 Tatum 45, Palestine Westwood 36

Girls Class 2A Region III Area Playoff

At Wildcat Arena, Whitehouse

Westwood               3    6   11   16   --   36
Tatum                    15    8   14    8   --   45
WESTWOOD (14-15) -- Mi'Kayla Benson, 11; Natali Muniz, 9; Alexis Hatten, 6; Diamond Dewberry, 5; Jemelia Thomas, 5.
TATUM (27-3) -- Kaylah Starling, 20; Alexes Bell, 15; Alexus Freeney, 3; Destiny Hicks, 2; JaKaylon Lee, 2; Ro'Nishia Simpson, 2; Daziah Adams, 1.
THREE-POINT GOALS -- Westwood: Muniz (3), Benson, Thomas. Tatum: Bell (3), Freeney.