Somewhere on the trip home Thursday evening between New Orleans and Lafayette, Acadiana High School girls basketball coach Nic Jeffers started to move on from his team’s 54-43 upset playoff win over Helen Cox.

While there was a buzz on the team’s bus following the No. 23 Lady Rams’ first Class 5A state playoff victory since 2006, Jeffers was trying to accumulate tidbits on his next opponent — No. 7 seeded Natchitoches Central (23-9).

“When I found out who our opponent would be, my focus shifted,” said Jeffers, whose team hosts the Lady Chiefs at 6:30 p.m. Monday. “It’s been exciting. They seem fired up about the opportunity to play back at home.

“They earned it. I’m excited as well.”

Given the season’s imbalance, it would have been easy to pencil Acadiana (17-14) in as a postseason team over the first two months of the season and just as easy to remove the Lady Rams from the conversation the past two months.

With seven seniors who were part of last year’s first-round playoff team, the Lady Rams opened with a 14-4 start that included District 3-5A wins over Comeaux and Barbe.

“Coming in, I felt we would be as good or better,” Jeffers said of his third season as coach. “With five seniors back with game experience and the right attitude and work ethic, I was hopeful for this season.”

Acadiana was reduced to five seniors with the loss of one senior to a preseason ACL injury and another in a 58-56 nondistrict loss to Northside.

The Lady Rams won tournaments at St. Thomas More, their own AHS event and Midland Holiday Spectacular before falling to rival Lafayette 44-42 in the final of the Vermilion Catholic Yuletide Classic.

Then came the rough patch where Acadiana, starting with a home league game against Sam Houston, went on a five-game losing streak. That stretch went on to include 11 losses in 12 games before a 49-33 win at Lafayette to end the regular season.

“We had six losses by six points or less in district,” Jeffers said. “That’s two to three possessions a game that could have gone another way in those games. Earlier in the season we got some of those bounces, and for whatever reason in district we didn’t get them.”

Beating Lafayette, which had already twice defeated it, provided Acadiana with a much-needed boost before the playoffs after finishing in a tie for sixth place in the district.

“That was huge going into the playoffs to end the regular season on a high note,” Jeffers said. “I was excited for the kids to kind of get the monkey on their backs and show how they were capable of playing all along.”

To reach its first regional playoff game in nine years, Acadiana had to get past District 8-5A champion Helen Cox, a Top 28 participant last season.

The Lady Rams outscored the Lady Cougars 16-6 during the third quarter to erase a 25-24 halftime deficit and take a 40-31 lead into the fourth quarter.

Senior Paige Francis scored a game-high 21 points and sophomore Zariyah Hollier added 12, helping the Lady Rams hold off one final surge after Cox closed within 45-41 with 2:46 left.

“I would have liked to have won a few more games, but couldn’t be more proud of their response to what’s gone on throughout the season,” Jeffers said. “I like to compare basketball to life. Certainly there’s ups and downs and adversity. You’ve just got to keep fighting.”