By Rob Patrick
VAN BUREN — Seniors Kenzee Calley, Hannah Goshien, Shanika Johnson, Haley Montgomery, Alana Morris and Brooke Parish put the Bryant Lady Hornets back on the statewide basketball map over the last two years.
For three seasons between 2004-05 — when Rhonda Hall and the Grappe triplets (Ashley, Amanda and Allison) led the team to State — and last season, the Lady Hornets were unable to reach the State tournament. While that’s not a long drought by some standards, for the the Lady Hornet's program, it was a rare thing indeed. Consider that the 2004-05 trip to State was the first time the program didn’t advance dating back to the 1970’s (as best as can be determined).
This season, the Lady Hornets won 24 games, the most since the 1998-99 team went 24-6. The last time a Lady Hornets team won more than 24 was in 1995-96 when the team posted a 26-8 mark.
This year’s win over Fort Smith Northside on Thursday was the first State tourney win for a Lady Hornets team since March 4, 2003, when that year’s team defeated Jonesboro 59-53. In their next game, the 2002-03 version of the Lady Hornets were knocked out of the tourney in a quarterfinal game against Northside. So Thursday’s win was long-awaited revenge.
It was a win also that got the Lady Hornets to the semifinals for the first time since that 1995-96 team lost in the State championship game.
This year, the team’s bid to match that, however, fell short on Saturday afternoon when the defending Class 7A State champion Fayetteville Lady Bulldogs ended their season with a 73-45 loss.[more]
Fayetteville will play North Little Rock for the State title in a rematch from last year when Fayetteville completed an unbeaten season to capture the crown. North Little Rock goes into this year’s championship game unbeaten after a last-second win over Rogers, 48-47, in Saturday evening’s other semifinal at Clair Bates Arena in Van Buren.
Fayetteville, now 26-3 on the season, will be in its third straight State championship game. The Lady Bulldogs are now 58-3 over the last two seasons, 83-8 over the last three.
But it was a great year for Bryant girls basketball. Coupled with the freshman team’s 28-0 season, the primary teams for BHS combined to go 52-5.
As disappointing as Saturday’s loss was, most of the tears shed in the Lady Hornets’ locker room had more to do with the end of the season and the careers of those six seniors after days, months and years of toiling so diligently together and sharing all the highs and lows, good times and bad.
“Wins and losses come and go but it’s the relationships that really matter,” acknowledged Lady Hornets head coach Blake Condley. “That’s what’s tough.
“I’m just so proud of them,” he said of the seniors. “They’re good basketball players but they’re great kids. You talk to them, you tell them this is how we want the program to be, this is what we want to do and I don’t have to worry about them. We go out somewhere and it’s yes, ma’am; no ma’am; yes, sir; no, sir; and that’s a reflection on their parents. They’ve been raised really well and it’s been a privilege for me to be a part of their lives just for these few years.”
The Lady Hornets seemed a little timid to start Saturday’s game. In fact, it kind of looked like a team in the semifinals for the first time against one that had played in back-to-back State championship games.
Still, when Morris fed junior Abbi Stearns for Bryant’s first basket at the 6:14 mark of the opening quarter, the Fayetteville lead was just 4-2.
But the Lady Hornets didn’t score again until the final seconds of the period. The Fayetteville lead was 12-2 before Goshien drained a 3.
They got a chance to get closer when they forced a Fayetteville turnover but Stearns’ shot at the buzzer rimmed out.
And when the Lady Hornets got the ball to start the second quarter, they turned it over. Fayetteville’s Sierra Shipley cashed it in with a 12-foot jumper, part of her 21-point performance.
Kenzee Calley hit a 15-footer to answer for Bryant then back-to-back hoops by Emma Clay and Shipley extended the lead to double digits.
Goshien, who led Bryant with 15 points, popped another trey at the 6:11 mark to trim the lead to 18-10. And the Lady Hornets got a chance to get closer after an illegal screen but Fayetteville’s Calli Berna made a steal. In turn, she was called for a charge. Morris got inside for a shot at the other end but it was blocked. On the subsequent inbounds play, Emily Smith made a steal for the Lady Bulldogs and, this time, Claire Childers scored to make it 20-10.
Bryant had a chance right away to cut into the margin but Montgomery, the Lady Hornets’ best free-throw shooter, couldn’t get the front end of a one-and-one to go. At the other end, Fayetteville missed but Clay got the offensive rebound and fed Smith who knocked down a 3 while, under the basket, a foul was called against Bryant in the tussle for rebounding position. Clay went to the line and connected on both ends of the bonus and the result was a 5-point trip for the Lady Bulldogs.
The lead was never less than double digits after that.
“We talked about some things we needed to happen for us to be successful today and we just weren’t able to do that,” Condley commented. “I thought defensively we did okay. I thought we kind of held them to where we wanted to. They’re a good team. They can score but, boy, offensively we just never could get in sync, never could get a rhythm, never could get anybody really going. I think that was the difference.
“Some of it was their defense but I thought we made some turnovers and I thought we took some ill-advised shots,” he continued. “If we’d have been a little more patient — I thought later, when we were patient, we got those shots we wanted to. But you’ve just got to start the game better against a good team. Scoring 5 points in the first quarter, it’s hard to recover from that.
“I’d talked to the girls about feeding off of energy,” the coach concluded. “Your offense feeds off your defensive energy and I think that’s what Fayetteville did. When they’d get a turnover or they’d get a stop, it just makes those shots a little bit easier on the offensive end because you’re headed that way and going. They got their momentum going and we never could get it stopped.”
Though not a tall team, the Lady Bulldogs were very good at setting solid picks for each other on the ball and away from it. And they used them quite well. It seemed all but a couple of players could break down the defense on the dribble, attacking the basket. And when they were cut off by Bryant’s help defense, there always seemed to be someone in the right place to take a kick-out pass and knock down a jumper, often a 3.
For the game, they shot 63 percent from the field (26 of 41).
Defensively, they were particularly adept at forcing turnovers with help defense. A Bryant player, with the ball, would be guarded by one player and another, defending against someone else in the pattern of the offense, would drop off enough to reach in and knock the ball away. They forced 23 Bryant turnovers including their 11 steals.
They were also physical about working through Bryant’s screens and helping out to stop dribble penetration. If the game had been officiated like the first half of the Lady Hornets’ win over Northside on Thursday, Bryant would’ve been at the line all afternoon. As it was, however, Fayetteville was 16 of 23 at the line to Bryant’s 7 of 8.
Fayetteville built a lead of as much as 18 before the first half was over. Goshien hit another 3, however, and, after Fayetteville’s Sydney Conley hit a 15-footer, Morris made a nice feed to Parish for a layup to make it 34-19 at the break.
Stearns, who was shackled with three fouls for much of the first half, scored inside to start the second half and Bryant was within 13.
The teams traded buckets for a while. Shipley and Morris each had baskets off drives to the hoop. Childers, who finished with 19 points, and Montgomery traded 3’s then Childers hit a layup and Morris connected on a pair of free throws.
Finally, Clay and Calley traded baskets and it was 43-30. After a Bryant timeout, Shipley hit a baseline jumper and Bryant failed to respond. A driving layup by Shipley and a steal and layup by Conley extended the margin to 19.
Bryant was never as close again.
The lead ballooned to 55-32 before Goshien was fouled on a 3-point try at the buzzer ending the third quarter. She hit all three free throws to make it 55-35 going into the fourth quarter.
Fayetteville started the final period with a 9-2 run that produced the largest lead of the game, 64-37.
LADY BULLDOGS 73, LADY HORNETS 45
Score by quarters
BRYANT 5 14 16 10 — 45
Fayetteville 12 22 21 18 — 73
LADY HORNETS (24-5) 45
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb. fls pts
Montgomery 2-4 0-1 0-0 0 5 5
Goshien 4-8 3-3 0-1 1 1 15
Calley 2-3 2-2 1-1 2 2 6
Stearns 2-3 0-0 1-2 3 3 4
Morris 4-14 2-2 2-4 6 3 10
Johnson 1-5 0-0 0-1 1 3 3
Parish 1-2 0-0 0-1 1 0 2
Neal 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Hogancamp 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Barker 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Abernathy 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Lee 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Ball 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Sory 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Team 4-2 6
Totals 16-41 7-8 8-12 20 18 45
LADY BULLDOGS (26-3) 73
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Childers 7-10 2-2 2-1 3 0 19
Clay 2-2 2-5 0-0 0 2 6
Berna 3-7 0-0 0-0 0 3 6
Shipley 7-12 7-10 1-1 2 0 21
Breden 0-1 0-0 0-2 2 4 0
Conley 4-5 1-2 2-3 5 1 9
Smith 1-1 4-4 0-1 1 4 7
Briney 2-3 0-0 0-0 0 0 5
McHenry 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Ferguson 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Young 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 0 0
Duley 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 0 0
Daniels 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Team 2-7 9
Totals 26-41 16-23 7-17 24 14 73
Three-point field goals: Bryant 6-15 (Goshien 4-8, Montgomery 1-3, Johnson 1-3, Neal 0-1), Fayetteville 5-12 (Childers 3-4, Smith 1-1, Briney 1-1, Shipley 0-3, Berna 0-2, Breden 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 23, Fayetteville 14.