Rugged road victory vaults Lady Hornets closer to State
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
LITTLE ROCK — Sophomores Kayla Pitts and Leia Holland rarely get their names in the newspaper these days. Oh, they were in here a lot last year when they started for the Bryant Junior High team — and more than likely, there are days ahead when that will be the case too. But, for now, they’re biding their time, working to get better, playing in junior varsity games and contributing to the varsity however they can, mostly by providing as much competition as they can in practice to help make their teammates better and then cheering them on during the games.
Occasionally, when things went real well for the Lady Hornets (or on the rare occasion things go really badly), they get into the varsity games, near the end.
Now, when the Bryant Lady Hornets arrived at Little Rock McClellan High School for their crucial AAAAA-Central Conference game with the Lady Lions on Friday, Feb. 6, a pair of their first rotation of players had forgotten their road jerseys. But before head coach Rhonda Hall knew anything about it, the problem had been solved.
Giving up whatever chance they might have at playing late in the game, Pitts and Holland had given up their jerseys to their teammates. An unselfish gesture that was not lost on Hall, who asserted it set the tone for what proved to be a 57-51 win that all but clinched a State Tournament bid for Bryant.
“Nobody asked for them (to give up their uniforms),” Hall noted. “They just stepped up for the team and did what they thought would give us the best chance to win. It was a great thing for them to do. That’s just the kind of team game we had tonight. Everything we did was about our team. I was really proud.”
McClellan came into the game in fifth place in the AAAAA-Central, two games behind the fourth-place Lady Hornets in the race for one of the top four spots and a bid to State. Though not mathematically out of it, it figured to be the Lady Lions’ last best chance to make a move for a playoff drive.
But the Lady Hornets, despite some adversity, found a way to win.
“Persistence,” Hall insisted. “Everybody just stayed in and did their part. I don’t think anybody ever thought about losing. You could tell they were determined. They played to win the whole game. Every player we put on the floor did. That was a big step for us.
“I think this puts us in a really good position as far as making the state tournament now,” Hall allowed. “I think it’s in our hands how high we finish. I’ve seen a lot of good things out of our basketball team this week.”
The Lady Hornets still have games remaining with each of the three teams ahead of them in the standings including top-ranked Parkview and third-place Mount St. Mary’s at home.
A big night for Amanda Grappe, the Lady Hornets’ leading scorer, was essential Friday. She scored a season-high 32 points and hauled down 10 rebounds. Ashley Grappe, the team’s floor leader, added 10 points.
But Ashley Grappe, the team’s best ballhandler, fouled out with just under five minutes left in the game. That came after Amie Hubbard, the team’s next best ballhandler, had fouled out at the beginning of the period.
When Hubbard fouled out, McClellan’s Nyeshia Stevenson hit two free throws that put her team ahead for the first time in the game, 42-41 with 7:34 to play. When Ashley Grappe fouled out, Miesha Williams hit two free throws that cut Bryant’s lead to 48-46 with 4:52 to go.
Despite their losses, the Lady Hornets spread the floor soon after that and ran clock. With senior guard Megan Kennedy, juniors Allison and Amanda Grappe, senior post Liz Farish and sophomore guard Bridgette McPeak on the floor, the Lady Hornets not only sapped the clock, they extended the lead to the final margin.
“Our kids have been playing better and stepping up for us,” Hall noted. “Bridgette stepped up and made a big shot, Megan came in and just did a super job taking care of the basketball. Liz did a super job. She didn’t turn the ball over and had some big rebounds for us, especially right before half. Amanda was just Amanda. She kept working hard and every time we had to have it she was there.
“I thought Ashley played really, really good,” Hall acknowledged. “She’s why we were where we were at halftime. She made some beautiful passes and she kept everybody calm. So, when she left the game, there was no panic. Everybody didn’t go wild. Everybody just followed suit. We didn’t let anything bother us. We had a time where we could’ve folded up. We got a lot of fouls all at once but we didn’t quit. We kept on and played through it which is something we’ve struggled with this season at times.”
Bryant hit the Lady Lions hard early, jumping to a 13-2 lead that including 3-point baskets by Allison and Ashley Grappe, and a three-point play by Amanda.
McClellan cut it to 13-9 but then the Lady Hornets went on a 8-0 run. Bryant led 31-18 at the half.
McClellan made a push in the third quarter. The Lady Lions trimmed the lead to 35-27 but Allison Grappe canned a long 3-pointer to keep them at bay for a time. Williams and Stevenson, however, answered with 3’s of their own and, by the end of the period, Bryant’s lead was whittled down to 41-40.
After Stevenson gave her team its brief lead, Amanda Grappe’s clutch three-point play helped turn the tide. Free throws by Quandero Springs made it a one-point game again but McPeak stepped up with a much-needed basket from out on the floor, relieving some of the attention on Amanda Grappe inside.
Free throws by Williams made it 46-45 but Amanda Grappe hit a 12-footer and, after Williams hit a free throw to make it 48-46 as Ashley Grappe fouled out, scored on a drive to the hoop to bump it to 50-46.
Stevenson misfired and Allison Grappe added a free throw to the lead. And when she missed her second shot, Kennedy tracked down the rebound after Farish kept the carom alive.
The Lady Hornets worked the clock to 3:32 when Amanda Grappe was fouled. Though she missed the front end, she followed up with a steal.
Eventually, she drove for a layup off a feed from Allison and a 53-46 advantage with 1:16 to play.
In the final minute, both Amanda and Kennedy added free throws as McClellan was relegated to chasing.