Lady Hornets keep rolling with decisive win vs. Benton
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continueposting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By ROB PATRICK
Suddenly, it’s all good for the Bryant Lady Hornets. Fresh from a lopsided win at North Little Rock, the Lady Hornets rolled to a 56-44 win over the rival Benton Lady Panthers on Friday, Dec. 19, to head into the holiday break with momentum they hadn’t mustered yet this season. It’s the first time this season, they’ve won back-to-back games.
Friday’s effort was buoyed by the return of senior center Yousra Elhagemoussa, out since early in the summer with a knee injury.
Sounds like a turning point in the season.
Head coach Rhonda Hall emphasized the value of the experience gained by players that had to step in with Elhagemoussa’s absence.
“They’ve been out there and they’ve played — some players that weren’t expecting to be counted on as much as they have been,” she noted. “They got playing experience. They were having to play a bunch of minutes and now they can play the amount of minutes in a game where they’re the best. We really built a lot of depth with Yousra out.
“You could tell by the way Megan (Kennedy) played tonight what the playing experience has done,” Hall mentioned. “She did a great job.”
Kennedy alternated with sophomore Bridgette McPeak guarding Benton’s top scorer Caroline Starr. Though she finished with 18 points, Starr had just four field goals in the game.
“She’s an excellent basketball player, Hall noted. “To hold her to three or four field goals, the girls did a great job on her.”
Meanwhile, Bryant’s top scorer Amanda Grappe poured in 28 points. She pointed to improved teamwork as the key to the turnaround.
“We worked as a team,” she stated. “We haven’t been. And we’ve been taking more outside shots and we weren’t before. That’s what Coach Hall told us to do.
“We really want to win because that 4-5, we don’t want to see that again,” she added. “We want more wins, fewer losses.”
Elhagemoussa’s return frees up Grappe to work as a forward instead of center all of the time, Hall mentioned.
“Yousra coming back is going to be a real bonus for us,” added the coach. “She’s a great kid, the kids look up to her. She’s a good leader and she’s experienced. She’s been a starter, she’s been in rough places before and she’s going to know what to do. I think she has a real calming effect on most of the kids and she has a lot of energy.”
The senior made her first appearance early in the second quarter with the Lady Hornets up 14-10.
“It felt so good,” she said. “When I came out and (the crowd) started clapping for me and stuff, I about cried. It was so cool. It felt great to get back, I’m so glad to be back.”
Regarding the team’s early-season struggles, Elhagemoussa commented, “I think it’s because we lost so many seniors. They all played a lot and we needed somebody to step up and nobody really was wanting to do that. But now, I think a bunch of people have stepped up. We’re playing different now because they’ve stepped up. They want to score and they want to win.”
After Elhagemoussa got into the game, Starr hit a 3-pointer to get Benton within 14-13 but two free throws by Kennedy extended the lead. Moments later, Amanda Grappe jumped out to block a 3-point try by Benton’s Jo Jo Grant. At the other end, Kennedy grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to make it18-13.
Bryant went on to lead 25-18 at the half. To their credit, the Lady Panthers pushed back to within three early in the third quarter. But a three-point play by Amanda Grappe deflated that momentum. Ashley Grappe followed with a steal. Though she misfired on a 3-pointer, her sister was there to rebound. She was fouled and converted a free throw. Moments later, Bryant’s Amie Hubbard blocked a shot by Starr and Elhagemoussa cleared the deflection. At the other end, Ashley Grappe rifled a pass inside and Elhagemoussa got her first field goal of the season to make it 33-24.
After a Benton miss, Amanda Grappe and Elhagemoussa worked the high-low post for another basket for the senior. And when Kennedy hit a baseline jumper after that, Bryant led 37-24.
It was 45-36 going into the fourth quarter. Benton cut the lead to 8 twice down the stretch. The last time was when Leslie Larsen hit a driving jumper with 5:31 left to make it 49-41.
The Lady Panthers had a chance to get closer but the Lady Hornets forced a turnover that led to a three-point play for Amanda Grappe. After another Benton miss, Kennedy fed Liz Farish for a layup and a 54-41 lead that forced Benton to call timeout.
After Larsen scored again, Ashley Grappe hit two free throws, Amanda Grappe passed to Farish for a layup, Farish added a free throw after grabbing an offensive rebound and, to finish off a 12-2 run, Kennedy fed Amanda Grappe for an easy deuce to make it 61-43 with 1:50 to go.
The win improved Bryant to 6-5 on the season. The Lady Hornets return to action Saturday, Dec. 27, at the Lady Cat Classic in Conway. They’ll face a team from Norman, Okla.