CABOT — It wasn’t that long ago — Dec. 16, in fact — that the Bryant Lady Hornets freshman team was struggling to the extent that they lost a home game to the Mount St. Mary’s Mounties, 11-7.
Since then, however, they’ve won four out of six games with the only losses coming in the finals of the Kameron Hale Invitational Tournament finals at Lake Hamilton and on Wednesday, Jan. 15, when head coach Nathan Castaldi was trying foremost to keep his players fresh for their Central Arkansas Junior High Conference opener at Cabot North on the next night.
And that tactic paid off. Playing their third game in four days and on their second night in a row, the Lady Hornets were at their best in a 36-20 win over Cabot North’s Lady Panthers on Thursday, a successful conference debut.
“I think we probably played our best all-around game,” declared Castaldi, who, reflecting on the team’s improvement, added, “Part of it is, they work extremely hard in practice. They want to get better and they take every day seriously there. Then, too, we’re learning the play more together and I think that showed tonight where we made the extra pass, got a few more people involved and that kind of stuff. We’re a little bit harder to defend when we do those things.”
To underscore the coach’s point, all seven of the Lady Hornets who played contributed to the scoring, led by Macey Jaramillo’s 10 points, 8 from Destiny Martin, 7 by Sarah Kennedy and 5 by Kendal Rogers. Riley Hill, Alyssa Kubiako and Lania Ratliff had 2 each with Hill collecting a game-high seven rebounds.
As a team, Bryant out-boarded the Lady Panthers, 28-20. Defense, too, was no small thing as the Lady Hornets held Cabot North to 18 percent (5 of 28) shooting from the field including 1 of 13 in the first half and 1 of 7 in the fourth quarter. Cabot North actually cut Bryant’s lead to 28-19 halfway through the fourth quarter but managed just one free throw the rest of the game.
“I told the girls before the game that we were going to win it on the defensive end and I told them again at halftime,” Castaldi said. “Cabot had 5 at halftime. I knew they weren’t going to end up with just 10. So I said we’re going to have to win on the defensive end and the girls really did a good job.”
A free throw by Kennedy with 2:08 left to play extended the Bryant margin to 10 once again — the Lady Hornets had led by as much as 17 in the third period. Martin followed up with a three-point play off a Cabot turnover to push it to 13. After the Cabot North free throw, Martin converted twice at the line and Rogers drove for a layup to set the final score.
The Lady Hornets established the upper hand right off. Hill scored off a feed from Rogers then Jaramillo converted a pair of free throws to make it 4-0.
Cabot North’s only points of the opening period came on two free throws at that point. Jaramillo followed with the first of her two 3-pointers in the game. Hill made a steal that Martin cashed in off the offensive glass to run it to 9-2.
The Lady Panthers first and only field goal of the half came with 2:49 left in the second quarter. It broke a dryspell by both teams, making it 9-4. Jaramillo’s short jumper at 1:02 after Kennedy and Hill forced a turnover broke the ice for the Lady Hornets. After forcing a five-second call on an inbounds play, the Lady Hornets added to the lead with a driving jumper by Kennedy and it was 13-5 at the intermission.
The third quarter began with a renewed push by the Lady Hornets. The 11-2 surge started with a three-point play by Rogers. Kennedy scored off the boards and Martin hit a free throw to make it 19-5.
Cabot North interrupted with its first field goal of the second half at the 3:41 mark. But Kennedy drove for a layup off a steal and Jaramillo fired in her second 3-point bomb to create the 24-7 advantage.
The Lady Panthers rallied to within 26-12 by the end of the quarter. Ratliff’s stickback proving to be Bryant’s lone hoop of the stretch. Two free throws to start the fourth quarter closed the gap to 26-14 before Kubiako drove for a bucket.
But Cabot North continued its comeback, cutting the lead to 9 before the Lady Hornets re-asserted their dominance to close out the win.
Now 8-8 overall, Bryant hosts Benton in its next league outing on Thursday, Jan. 23.