It came down to their final game of the regular season.

The Callisburg Lady Cats basketball team had to win their showdown against Whitesboro to make the playoffs. They used their speed and athleticism to outlast Whitesboro 50-40 on Tuesday, Feb. 5 and qualify their team for the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.

Callisburg had to beat S&S Consolidated two games before Whitesboro to set up the matchup with Whitesboro, so several dominoes had to fall to get the Lady Cats in the playoffs.

Callisburg head coach Robert Payne has been at Callisburg for three years, so making the playoffs after some rough seasons was especially gratifying.

“I think to the girls, it means a bunch to them because they’ve been working hard,” Payne said. “They’ve been trying to get to that spot and I think I have one senior that’s been through the 4-25 season and .500 season so it has kind of paid off.”

That senior, shooting guard Kennedy Payne, said making the playoffs has been the goal since she arrived at Callisburg with her father three seasons ago.

“It means a lot,” Payne said. “That was our goal for the past three years since we got here, since he started coaching. It was about the playoffs and we’ve slowly been working toward it. We finally got it so it’s great.”

As the fourth seed in their district, the Lady Cats have drawn the top-seeded Howe Lady Bulldogs, who went 11-1 in district play.

Kennedy Payne said the team is focused and ready to shut down the Lady Bulldogs’ strong center.

“Yeah, we’re a very small team, so it’s kind of difficult for us,” Payne said. “I think we’re gonna have to shut down their big girl. I think she’s like 6’4” or 6’3”. So if we shut her down, I think we’ll be fine.”

Robert Payne said he’d rather shut down their center and allow outside shots than let her go crazy in the paint.

“We just have to try to find a way to neutralize that without giving up too,” Payne said. “It’s like anytime you squeeze a balloon or something, there is always something on the other end that’s getting out. I’m willing to stop the big because I’d rather have them have a bad day shooting outside than get hurt on the inside.”

Payne said he got right to studying when he found out who the Lady Cats were playing.

“Obviously I’m watching film trying to figure out what they do,” Payne said. “I’m just trying to figure out a way for us, within the confines of what we can do, to try to stop them. We’re basically just working on polishing up on what we do offensively.”

Patrick Hayslip can be reached at sports@gainesvilleregister.com or on Twitter at @PatrickHayslip