Lady Hornets return from Spa City with tourney title
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
HOT SPRINGS — Every athletic squad strives to develop teamwork but, for some, it’s easier than others, especially in sports that often reward individual statistics. Players have to be willing.
It can be a coach’s toughest sell. It helps if the players are hungry to win, if success has eluded them in recent seasons. Still, if good results don’t come pretty quickly, it gets tougher and tougher to maintain.
When it’s working, though, it’s a thing of beauty; the proverbial whole becomes greater than the sum of its individual parts. Teams, no matter how talented individually, can accomplish more than might’ve been expected.
Like, for instance, winning a holiday tournament.
That was the case for the Bryant Lady Hornets when they captured the Summit Bank Spa City Classic, the first tourney title of any kind for a Lady Hornets team since December of 2004.
To get it done, the Lady Hornets outlasted the Hot Springs Lady Trojans, 49-39, on Saturday, Dec. 29. The previous day, they had advanced to the title game with a 71-52 romp over the rival Lady Panthers of Benton. With a tourney-opening win, 60-32, over Hot Springs Lakeside, as well, the Lady Hornets improved to 10-2, going into their 7A-Central Conference opener against Mount St. Mary’s Academy of Little Rock on Friday, Jan. 4.
Bryant second-year head coach Blake Condley pointed to the end of the 2006-07 season to illustrate how the seeds were sewn for this year’s success.
“We took two weeks off at the end of the season last year then we started in,” he recalled. “In March, while some teams were in the state tournament still playing, we were hitting it, trying to get better. The girls were working hard.”
Senior Brittany Mills mentioned another ingredient in the team’s success. “We became closer as a team,” she said. “Last year, we weren’t really close. I think, really, you have to be close to your teammates to make it far. We’re all as close as we can be.
“Coach Condley’s really big into us going everywhere as a team,” Mills explained. “Say, the jayvee has a game, he wants all of us to go to the jayvee game whether it’s two hours away or home. He wants us all to go together. At the beginning of the year, we’d go play laser-tag together, go see a movie together, stuff like that. It’s brought us really close together.”
Senior Lindsey Cason agreed, “There’s a lot more teamwork this year. We can pull 10 girls off the bench and any five you can select are going to be just as strong as our starting five are. And we’re really intense. We like to push the ball and when you work together and you push the ball up the floor, these other girls (opponents) just can’t keep up. If you’re used to playing like that like we are — we play that way against each other in practice — and you’re intense, then you can keep up with us but if you’re not, you end up 19 points down.”
“I feel like the girls are buying in, for the good of the program and the good of the whole group, not just about the individual,” Condley concluded.
The championship was sweetened by the narrow miss at a tournament at Mills earlier this season when Bryant reached the finals only to suffer a 38-34 loss to Lake Hamilton. They figured to get a re-match with the Lady Wolves at the Summit but Hot Springs pulled the upset in overtime on Friday.
“It kind of slipped through our hands,” Condley said of the Mills championship. “It’s nice to have them know what that feels like, to get a championship. Winning breeds more winning and that’s what we’re hoping to do. If we can keep it going, that’ll be great.”
And instead of playing Lake Hamilton, the Lady Hornets had the Lady Wolves rooting for them.
“We came in after playing Hot Springs (Dec. 4),” Brittany Mills recalled. “It was an intense game we won by 2. It’s great to blow them out. It pumped us all up because all of Lake Hamilton’s people kept telling us to beat them, beat them, beat them.”
After trailing most of the first quarter, the Lady Hornets put together a 14-2 run at the end of the first quarter and start of the second to take a lead they never relinquished.
Hot Springs kept it close and threatened late but Bryant held on by converting 15-of-22 free throws in the fourth quarter, 23 of 34 for the game.
Alana Morris finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Lady Hornets but Mills, Hannah Goshien and Anna Simpson had 9 points each and Jasmine Carter 7.
Bryant out-rebounded Hot Springs 51-27 with 25 caroms at the offensive end to just six for the Lady Trojans.
“Just a good team effort,” judged Condley. “No one girl had a dominating game but we’ve tried to build our team that way. We’re not going to be focused on one girl. On any given night, we expect different girls to carry us.
“I feel like things are coming together for us,” he added. “I still don’t think that we’re playing our best ball. I still think we’ve got improvement, things we can work on, and that comes from having young girls and trying to mesh them with the older ones.”
The Lady Hornets trailed 10-6 when they put together the surge to take the lead. Goshien scored to get things started. Carter hit a free throw moments later and when she missed the second, Cason hustled for the rebound and got the ball to Morris, who was fouled. She converted twice to give Bryant its first lead 11-10.
Two free throws by Hot Springs point guard Ashley McDonald who finished with a game-high 15 points, put her team back on top briefly. The Lady Hornets, however, pushed the ball up the floor against the Hot Springs pressure and Mills hit a layup to put Bryant up for good.
It stayed 13-12 until the closing seconds of the quarter when Carter saved a loose ball by getting it to Morris who drove into the lane for a pull-up jumper that beat the buzzer and made the lead 3.
Cason hit a free throw to start the scoring in the second period. After a pair of Hot Springs misses, Goshien fed Simpson for a layup to make it 18-12.
McDonald missed a 3 then a determined effort on the boards led to the completion of the Bryant run. Taylor Hughes misfired on a 3-point try but Simpson got an offensive rebound, Morris got one, Simpson got another then Carter grabbed a carom and scored to make it 20-12 with 5:22 left in the half.
At the break, however, Hot Springs was still within 6, 30-24.
To start the third quarter, the Lady Hornets pushed that out to double digits on a stickback by Simpson, two free throws by Mills and another by Goshien.
The Lady Trojans rallied to within 4 at the 2:10 mark and had a chance to get closer but Bryant forced a turnover with 1:49 left and Carter hit two free throws to get Bryant back on track. After Ericka House missed a 3 and a follow for Hot Springs, Simpson got free on a breakaway and was fouled intentionally on the way to the hoop.
Though she made just one of the free throws, the Lady Hornets retained possession and worked the clock down to :44.5 before Mills was fouled. She converted two then another with :27.7 to go to set the final score.
Bryant 71, Benton 52
The Lady Hornets downed their rivals for the third time this season by the most decisive margin though it was a 4-point game at the 4:33 mark of the third quarter.
Bryant finished the period with an 11-0 run to take control. Benton couldn’t get the lead under 10 after that.
Goshien, following up a 23-point performance against Lakeside the day before, scored 21 including four 3-pointers. She also collected a team-high 10 rebounds. Morris added 17 points and Mills, who managed just two free throws in the first half while going 0-for-6 from the field, came through with a big second half to finish with 16.
The Lady Hornets forced 27 turnovers and held Benton’s stellar post players, Mattison Chilton (12) and Brittany Westerman, to 20 points combined, though Westerman collected a game-high 15 boards.
Sweeping the Lady Panthers was no small thing, particularly for the Bryant seniors.
“Our past record with Benton hasn’t been so good,” Cason acknowledged. “For our (senior) class, it’s always been win one, lose one but I don’t think we’ve won many varsity since I’ve been here as a sophomore. It’s amazingly refreshing to win all those games and not have to worry about them anymore, just put that behind us. Later, we can look back and really be happy about beating them three times.”
“It’s a huge rivalry,” Condley added. “Both teams are going to give everything they’ve got from start to finish. No matter when you play, this game — everything goes out the window except for this night, this game. Everybody I’ve talked to says that’s the way it’s always been.
“I feel like we stayed with what’s good for us, that’s trying to get up and down the floor, trying to create some turnovers, just trying to do the things — maybe not what we’re good at but that we work on in practice, getting up and down the floor, making it a fullcourt game rather than a halfcourt game,” Condley continued. “They’ve got some good post players. They’re tough to stop inside. We felt like if we make it a fullcourt game we make it hard for them to get it to those post girls.”
Despite getting out to a 7-0 start, the Lady Hornets couldn’t shake the Lady Panthers in the first half. They led 19-17 at the first break and, when Chilton scored to start the second period and Mandi Haltom added a pair of free throws, Benton had what turned out to be its only lead, 21-19.
Simpson fed Cason for a tying basket and, after a missed opportunity at the line for Benton, Cason followed a teammate’s miss and scored to put the Lady Hornets on top for good.
Two free throws by Goshien made it 25-21. Haltom countered with a free throw but Benton missed three other shots from the line at that point so when Goshien canned a 3 off a nice feed from Courtney Mosley, the lead grew to 6. Another trey by Goshien was countered by Haltom. And when Julie Davis added a triple in the final minute, Benton was within 31-28 at the half.
At that point, the Lady Hornets were plagued by fouls. Simpson and Carter were sitting with three each and Goshien had picked up two.
“The way we’ve gone all year, we’ve got nine or 10 girls that are playing all the time,” Condley commented. “So, I feel like, if we get into foul trouble, those same girls step in.”
The telling third-quarter run for Bryant started with a free throw by Simpson at the 4:23 mark. Both teams missed several chances to change that score but it wasn’t until Carter and Mills combined on a steal that led to a trip to the line for Carter at the 2:37 mark that the Lady Hornets really got things going.
Carter made both shots and, because the foul had been rule intentional, the Lady Hornets got the ball. Carter inbounded it to Mills for an easy 2 and it was 43-35.
Carter added an offensive-rebound basket with 1:53 left and, after Hughes and Morris combined to force a turnover, Mills scored. A turnaround jumper by Morris in the final :30 upped the margin to 49-35 going into the final period.
Benton whittled it back to 10 but Carter hit two free throws and, after a Benton turnover, collected a loose ball and scored. When Morris hit a free throw, Bryant had bumped the lead to 58-43.
The Lady Panthers cut it to 11 with 1:48 left but couldn’t score after that. The final margin was the largest of the contest.
“I thought Hannah shot the ball real well,” Condley commented. “Brittany made some good plays for us, Alana’s so tough to stop off the dribble and Jasmine had some really great rebounds coming down the stretch. She did some things that we really needed. I thought Lindsey played a good game. She’s solid for us.
“I feel like I could just go on and on about the girls on this team,” he concluded, “just great team effort.”