This time of the year, the top teams tend to have their rotations set and their plays drawn up, and know where they want to put the ball. The wild card, as teams near the state tournament, is how they manage their emotions under pressure.

Ayla Tarte and her teammates seem to have that piece well in hand, as McAuley coolly came back for a 49-40 win over Deering in an SMAA girls’ basketball game Tuesday night at a loud McAuley High.

The Lions (16-1), ranked No. 1 in the Western Class A Heal point standings, shook off a long rally by the third-ranked Rams (14-3) to close the game on a 11-2 run. That run featured 7-of-9 shooting from the foul line.

“I told the girls this was going to be a playoff game,” McAuley Coach Bill Goodman said. “They know it’s a big game because (coming in) Deering only has two losses. We expected nothing less than what we got tonight.”

Tarte scored seven of her game-high 17 points in the fourth quarter.

“Ayla came to us four years ago as a great athlete,” Goodman said. “She’s made herself into a great basketball player. She had some key points and she was hustling, trying to make rebounds and playing tough defense.”

None of Tarte’s points were bigger than the two free throws she hit to give the Lions the lead for good, 40-39, with 3:05 to play, and the three-point play she converted to push the lead to 43-39.

“I have to keep my cool; last time we played (Deering), I lost it a little bit,” Tarte said. “We all know it’s really important to be emotionally connected, get pumped up together and hope everybody’s on the same page. It was extremely exciting out there.”

The Rams, who fell to McAuley 49-48 in overtime on Dec. 16, again put the Lions to the test.

After the Lions took a 27-20 lead into halftime, Deering came out on a 16-5 run through the third and fourth quarters to tie the game at 36 on Lodia Ismail’s 3-pointer with 6:20 left in the game.

“They’re very talented, every (Deering) girl can score,” Goodman said. “We knew they were going to come back. My team had to show some patience.”

McAuley took a timeout but Deering kept the momentum, as Ismail (eight points, three steals) stole the ball high in the Rams’ half and slipped it to Tasia Titherington (seven points), whose layup gave Deering its first lead, 38-36 with 5:45 to play.

“They were moving the ball really well, they kept attacking us and that hurt us,” Tarte said. “But we picked it up. It’s all about heart, how much you want it.”

Jess Willerson (12 points, 11 rebounds) finished a nice feed from Sarah Clement (13 points) to tie it at 38 with 3:56 left.

“I have total trust in Jess, we really understand each other well,” Clement said. “I didn’t have the open shot and I trusted her with the ball.”

Cierra Burnham (nine points) hit a free throw for a 39-38 Deering lead. That’s when Tarte stepped up.

Amanda Brett led the Rams with 10 points, 10 rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals.