It’s been a struggle at times for the Bryant Lady Hornets freshman team this season. With star guard Raija Todd playing up with the high school team — and starting — many of the players have had to learn new roles. But again on Thursday night, they showed they can play with the best teams in the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference when they took the Cabot White Lady Panthers to the brink before suffering a 38-30 loss.
Earlier in the season, the Lady Hornets had defeated Cabot White, 27-24. Since then, according to Bryant coach Nathan Castaldi, the Lady Panthers have been beating everybody, often by 20-plus points.
Bryant was led by Raven Loveless who finished with 9 points and 15 rebounds despite being surrounded by Cabot’s packed zone. Point guard Paige Adams added 7 including a pair of 3-pointers in the first half that helped create some room for Loveless to maneuver inside. Jalen Sparks added 6 points.
“They really focused on keeping the ball out of Raven’s hands,” acknowledged Castaldi. “We did a good job in the first half of trying to go a little quicker before they could get back. The second half, the game slowed down on both sides a little bit. But they did a good job of keeping it out of her hands.”
The Lady Hornets got down 6-0 out of the gate but a 10-0 run had them on top. Loveless hit a free throw to break the ice with 2:55 left in the period. Sparks scored off an inbounds pass from Stephanie Cullen then Adams fed Sparks for another bucket.
A steal by Adams gave Bryant the chance to take the lead. Off an assist from Daniele Singleton, Loveless came through to make it 7-6. After a miss by the Lady Panthers, Adams drained her first 3 to complete the run.
Cabot scored the next 3 points before Loveless hit a free throw in the final seconds of the period to make it 11-9.
And early in the second quarter, Loveless collected one of her eight offensive rebounds and scored then Adams knocked down another triple and the Lady Hornets were up 16-9.
Cabot, however, closed out the half with a 9-2 run, interrupted only by a drive to the hoop by Bryant’s Kelly Williams. So the game was tied 18-18 at intermission.
The Lady Hornets maintained the upper hand early in the second half. Cullen scored off the offensive glass and, after a Cabot free throw, Singleton found the range from the corner to make it 22-19 with 2:58 left.
But the Lady Panthers surged and managed a 25-23 edge going into the fourth quarter.
Loveless posted up for a basket to tie it in the opening moments of the final period but Cabot responded with another surge, pushing the lead to 33-25 before Sparks got a shot to go inside with 3:05 left.
The Lady Panthers eventually led by 11 in the late stages of the game. A basket by Ralae Benton and a free throw by Loveless cut the score to the final margin.
“I thought, offensively the first half, we shot the ball real well,” Castaldi said. “The second half, we were a little short. I thought we lost our legs a little bit. Those shots that fell the first half — we still got the looks — they just didn’t fall the second half.”
Asked about that fact that Cabot shot 20 free throws to Bryant’s nine, the coach said, “That’s what Cabot does to you. They put a lot of pressure on you. They attack the rim. They put you in bad situations defensively.”
The Lady Hornets are set to host Lake Hamilton on Monday in another CAJHC contest.