Lady Hornets head to State on winning note
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 continue posting 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
It hadn’t been one of Ashley Wallis’ best nights. Certainly, not shooting nights, anyway. But when the Benton Lady Panthers had trimmed Bryant’s 14-point lead down to 9 midway through the fourth quarter and had appeared to latched onto the momentum, Wallis went to work.
The junior point guard pushed the ball upcourt and sliced through the Benton defense for a layup as she was fouled with 3:15 left to play. She missed the free throw but teammate Candice Croy hauled down the rebound and, moments later, Wallis was back at the line. This time, she connected once to make it 45-33. The rebound from her missed second shot was contested for by Bekka Middleton who tipped the ball to Heather Atkins.
Atkins knocked down a short jumper, her only basket of the night to bump the lead back up to 14 with 2:58 left.
Bryant went on to a 53-43 victory to finish the regular season 23-5 overall and 12-2 in the AAAAA-South Conference. They’ll begin play at the Class AAAAA State Tournament in Fayetteville’s Walton Arena next Wednesday at 4 p.m.
Benton, which fell to 12-15 and 7-7, will also make the trip to Fayetteville but, because of the loss and a win by Sheridan over El Dorado Tuesday night, the Lady Panthers face a tough draw. As the fourth seed from the South, Benton must face the champion of the AAAAA-West, Fort Smith Northside, ranked No. 1 in the state for most of the season.
Sheridan gains the third seed and will face Cabot, the runner-up from the AAAAA-East, in the first round of the tournament.
That’s the spot the Lady Panthers so wanted to earn and might’ve with a win over Bryant Tuesday. But the Lady Hornets, despite being secure in their second-place spot, would not relent.
On a night when seniors Emily Hantz and Lindsey Menard were honored, the Lady Hornets were paced by Hantz’ 12 points. Menard, out since injuring her ankle in the warm-ups prior to the year’s first Benton-Bryant meeting on Jan. 29, finally was able to return to the floor and got into the scoring column with a free throw.
Middleton finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Lady Hornets. Wallis wound up with 10 points despite a 3-for-12 performance from the field. And Croy came off the bench to pitch in with 8. Ten of the 12 Bryant players that saw action scored.
Benton was paced by LaSharon Reed’s 11 points. Jamie Guerin added 8.
The game was tight early. Bryant led 9-8 at the end of the first quarter on the strength of a late basket by Hantz.
Rachel Poe scored the first basket of the second quarter and Benton had the lead 10-9.
But, it was the last time, the Lady Panthers had the advantage.
Wallis hit two free throws to put Bryant back on top. Middleton followed with a steal that led to a trip to the line for Hantz. She converted once to make it 12-10.
Benton tied it on a 15-foot jumper by Guerin and had a chance to regain the lead when Middleton couldn’t get a turnaround jumper to go.
But Middleton made a steal and Wallis drove for a layup, drew a foul and completed a three-point play, giving Bryant a lead it would never relinquish.
It was 17-14 when Croy and Tiffany Kennedy sparked a 9-0 rush to end the half. Bryant led 26-14.
The Lady Panthers recommitted to go inside to double posts Poe and Reed to start the second half and had enough success to trim the margin to 28-20.
But Bryant answered with a surge of its own starting with a short jumper by Kim Jacuzzi and, after a Benton miss, a 15-foot jumper by Wallis.
Hantz grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to give Bryant a 34-20 lead with 4:10 left in the third quarter.
After a Benton timeout, Jacuzzi blocked a shot by Reed and, at the other end, Middleton was fouled. She converted once.
Benton’s Jade James launched a 3 unsuccessfully and the Lady Hornets took advantage of a long rebound to get the running game going. Wallis fed Hantz for a layup and, with 2:58 left in the third quarter, Bryant had its largest lead of the game 37-20.
With the help of Frannie Whipple and Rebecca Dawson off the bench, the Lady Panthers trimmed the lead to 38-26 going into the fourth quarter and, after Hantz opened the scoring in the final period, they kept up the rally.
Reed hit a free throw and, after one of 24 Bryant turnovers in the game, Poe hit a turnaround jumper off a post-up.
Hantz, in turn, missed and Reed took advantage by scoring off the offensive glass moments later and drawing a foul.
Reed couldn’t add the free throw, but Benton had whittled the lead down to single digits with 5:11 left.
Bryant, in turn, had three consecutive empty trips up the floor. But Benton was unable to take advantage. Finally, Middleton posted up, got the ball and had her shot blocked by Poe. But Middleton stayed with it, grabbed the deflection and scored to make it 42-31.
An offensive-rebound basket by Sugar Ellis got Benton back within 9, however, before Wallis’ tell-tale drive.
The Lady Hornets eventually built the lead back up to 15 before a late flurry by Benton trimmed it to the final 10-point margin.