The Aiken High School girls’ basketball team played one of its best games of the season at one of the best times. The Hornets opened the Class AAAA playoffs with a first-round win at home with a sound 59-41 victory over Blythewood.

“It was a good test,” Aiken head coach Aubrey Pompey said of the postseason opener. “We got a tough draw, but played well and got in the flow early.”

The Hornets (17-7) led by five points after the first quarter and stretched out to a 28-19 advantage at halftime.

Alexis Odom paced the Aiken effort early, scoring seven of her eight points in the first quarter. It was part of a steady approach that was similar to the way the Hornets played in the regular-season finale against South Aiken, when they cruised to a win.

“When we relax and take our time, we do well,” Pompey said. Against South Aiken, that’s what we did and they learned from that.”

Senior guard Erin Gilmore led Aiken with 15 points, with 10 coming in the second half. That was when the Hornets stretched their lead to as large as 20 points. They tried to take the air out of the ball midway through the fourth quarter, allowing Blythewood to attempt a comeback that cut the lead to a dozen points.

But Aiken finished strong, applying the same pressure defense that gave the Bengals (16-9) fits and has been its calling card all season.

“It’s been our strength all year, tough defense,” said Pompey, whose team executed the strategy of taking away Blythewood’s outside shooting attack. “We never allowed them to get into their offense. We were not going to let them beat us shooting outside.”

The defense forced several turnovers which were translated into transition baskets for the Hornets. Jhay Graham had a big game with 10 points, while Rebekah Muir and Monique Tyler both added eight points apiece.

With the win, Aiken advances to the second round, where it will hit the road to play Summerville, which beat West Florence 69-59. Pompey was undaunted about the prospect of traveling across the state for a big game on Friday night.

“It’s great playing at home, but this group can play anywhere,” he said, adding he doesn’t have a scouting report on Summerville yet, but believes it’s his team’s performance that will dictate the outcome. “It’s us. When we play good, we can play with anyone.”

BLY 11 8 13 9 – 41

AIK 16 12 17 14 –59

Blythewood (16-9)—Kierra Brown 4 8-10 16, Breelyn Blanding 1 0-0 2, Jasrial Thompson 0 0-2 0, Aaliyah Keels 4 0-0 10, Lauren Harley 1 1-2 3, Brooke Taylor 0 2-2 2, Bryana Anderson 1 0-0 2, Kimberly Cobb 2 0-0 4. Totals: 13 11-16 41.

3-Pointers: Keels (2).

Aiken (17-7)—Erin Gilmore 6 3-4 15, Hanna Williams 3 0-1 6, Rebekah Muir 3 0-0 8, Jhay Graham 4 0-0 10, Monique Tyler 4 0-0 8, Alexis Odom 3 2-4 8, Sophie Nance 2 0-0 4. Totals: 25 5-9 59.

3-Pointers: Muir (2), Graham (2).

Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.