Lady Hornets win CAC tournament
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
NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Had the game been played at Little Rock Central or Little Rock Parkview, there might’ve been 20 free throws attempted between the two teams. But it wasn’t, it was played at Central Arkansas Christian in the finals of the OrthoArkansas/CAC Invitational Tournament on Saturday, Dec. 4. And between the two teams, there were all of 83 free throws attempted.
CAC’s Lady Mustangs attempted more of them but the Bryant Lady Hornets made more, surging to a 77-59 victory that, for most of the game, seemed, at least, closer than that.
The Lady Hornets captured the title with their fifth win in as many games this season, all against State-Tournament quality teams including defending Class AAAAA runner-up Cabot in the tourney semi’s.
And CAC, a Class AAA team, was none the least of them. The Lady Mustangs, earlier this season, knocked off defending Class AAAAA champion Little Rock Parkview (which has almost everyone back). But that game was not played at Parkview, where almost anything goes. It was played at CAC and when it ended in the third overtime, Parkview was down to four players.
In the tournament final, the Lady Mustangs attempted 45 free throws but converted only 27. Bryant, on the other hand, went 30-of-38. Ashley Grappe, coming off a career-high 31 points against Cabot, had 24 in the title game including 11 of 12 at the line. She also had a team-high nine rebounds.
Amanda Grappe added 18 points and Amie Hubbard 11.
CAC was led by tough 6-1 sophomore Whitney Zachariason who had 27 points and 14 rebounds before becoming the first of three Lady Mustangs to foul out down the stretch.
Bryant lost senior forward Kalin Dreher to fouls early in the second half. She and Amanda Grappe, along with Robin Speake used up 13 fouls trying to slow down Zachariason.
“She was really tough,” Amanda Grappe said afterwards. “She’s really good. They’re a fast team so we tried to get back on defense and guard her. They thought they had it because it was their tournament but we showed them.”
A key point in the game came when Zachariason fouled out. Bryant, which had led the entire game, was up 61-48 but, with the pace of the game, didn’t seem secure. Amanda Grappe, playing with four fouls, was set up defensively on the block when Zachariason, with four fouls, made a move and plowed into the Bryant senior. A blocking call would’ve cost the Lady Hornets one of their prime players but the charging foul was whistled and it was CAC which lost its main cog.
The Lady Mustangs were able to cut the gap to 11 with 5:52 left to play but free throws by Ashley and Amanda in the next 40 seconds not only bumped the lead but cost CAC two more players. And when Amanda and Allison Grappe combined on a steal that led to a three-point play by Ashley Grappe with 4:37 left, Bryant’s lead was up to 67-50 and the game was pretty well secured.
The fast-paced contest included 46 turnovers, split evenly between the two teams. But it was Bryant’s ability, especially early, to not only avoid turnovers against the Lady Mustangs’ press but burn it for points that gave the Lady Hornets with the upper hand.
“We practiced the two days before (the game) on beating the press so we were ready,” Amanda Grappe said.
“We were kind of hoping they would press,” added Lady Hornets head coach Rhonda Hall. “I think that’s one of the stronger parts of our game. Ashley does a great job of keeping teams from pressing us because she does such a good job with the ball, pushes the ball up the floor, gets it to the other players. And the other players know what their roles are.
“We came in here with the idea that we were going to play like we were going to play,” she added. “We didn’t try to change anything or do anything special for them. We just wanted to do the same things that have been working for us. The kids gave the same effort they’ve been giving all year long, played with the same desire and enjoyed doing it the whole time. I’m glad they got to reap the rewards of what they’ve done this week.
“I think Cabot and CAC both are excellent basketball teams,” Hall acknowledged. “They’re both going to have great seasons. I hope that we’ll all be in the same place at the end when it comes State Tournament time.”
CAC’s lone lead of the game came when Taylor Johnson hit a 3-pointer just two minutes in that gave her team an 8-6 edge. Bryant then reeled off a 14-4 run to end the first period and never trailed again. A free throw by Ashley Grappe, a stickback by Dreher and three consecutive layups by Amanda Grappe got the run going. After Zachariason interrupted, Hubbard nailed a 3 to make it 18-10.
The lead was whittled to 5 early in the second period but Hubbard hit a pair of free throws after hitting the offensive boards, Bridgette McPeak forced a turnover on a held ball and Ashley Grappe drained a running jumper in the lane to make it 26-17. Hubbard followed with her second triple and the margin was double digits for the first time.
The Lady Mustangs were never as close again. They had a couple of chances to get it back to 5 late in the half. Trailing 35-28, they forced a pair of Bryant turnovers only to return the favor both times. So when Allison Grappe hit a layup off a baseline drive, Bryant led 37-28 at the half.
Zachariason scored 11 points to help keep her team close in the third quarter. Seven of those points came at the free throw line but she missed six there during that stretch including the front end of a bonus chance. Her basket with 1:39 to go in the quarter had the Lady Mustangs within 49-41 but McPeak hit four free throws on consecutive trips and, after a CAC free throw, Hubbard came through with a three-point play with :13.7 left in the period to give the Lady Hornets a 56-42 advantage.
And when Kaci Melhorn hit a jumper to start the fourth quarter, Bryant’s lead was 16, as much as it had been all game. CAC made it last push to whittle it to 11 before Bryant put it away.