Lady Hornets earn ‘must’ win with big second half
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
The euphemism that most coaches use is: “We were playing not to lose instead of playing to win.”
Bryant Lady Hornets head coach Carla Crowder is more direct. “We’ve been scared the last couple of games,” she said of her team. “I don’t know why. But, you know, we’ve got a lot of sophomores playing. And we don’t start basketball until eighth grade, so they’re really like ninth graders playing.”
Almost all Arkansas schools begin their prep programs in seventh grade. Bryant is an exception, something Crowder and most everyone in the athletic department has been working to change in recent years.
Nonetheless, there’s no denying it’s a very special group of “ninth graders.” Four sophomores — Ashley and Amanda Grappe, Kalin Dreher and Amie Hubbard — have been playing key roles on the team, a big part of Bryant’s 15 wins in the first 17 games.
But the Lady Hornets hit a stretch of three games in which they played three top competitors for the AAAAA-Central Conference championship and, perhaps the magnitude of the games made them more tentative than they’d been. They lost at home to Little Rock Parkview then at Conway and, at halftime of Friday’s home game against league-leading Mount St. Mary’s, they trailed 24-23.
Suddenly realizing they were in danger of falling out of contention for a title, however, the team made a dramatic return to form in the second half and buried the Belles, 63-40, to earn a share of the league lead.
“Hustle,” Crowder declared. “We just hustled. And we didn’t play scared. We told them that whoever is hustling is who’s going to be playing. Whoever we felt was going to get their butt in gear and get after it was who was going to play.”
And get after it, they did! Defense, as is almost always the case for a Crowder-coached team, made the difference. Bryant held Mount St. Mary’s to just two field goals in the second half (out of 20 attempts) keying a 20-6 blitz that blew the game up.
“We knew we had to win,” Crowder said. “Our backs were against the wall. We’ve got a shot at still finishing first in the conference if we can take care of business. It’s a choice; we’ve got to decide what we want to do. The kids have got to get out there and get after it.”
The Belles were the ones getting after it early in the game. They built a 15-8 lead in the first quarter. Bryant began a bit of a rally before the period was through. Yousra Elhagemoussa’s offensive-rebound bucket got the comeback started and, in the final minute, Hubbard canned a baseline jumper to make it a 3-point game.
Britton Blough drilled a 3-pointer to start the second quarter for Mount St. Mary’s but baskets by Jennifer Slack and Elhagemoussa trimmed it to 2. Krystal Tyree missed the front end of a one-and-one for the Belles and Bryant took advantage as Ashley Grappe hit the offensive glass for a tying bucket.
Bryant forced a turnover and Grappe, who led all scorers with 20 points, hit a short jumper to give the Lady Hornets a brief lead.
Free throws by Aubrey Pangle with 1:12 left game Mount St. Mary’s a 24-22 edge and the Belles had a chance to increase that margin but Rachel Blakley made a steal and was fouled. She converted one of her two free throws to set the halftime score.
Slack, who finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds, hit a driving jumper as did Amanda Grappe early in the second half. Slack’s stickback made it 29-24. Mount St. Mary’s countered with a pair of free throws from Shelby Vadjunec (15 points) and a basket inside by Stephanie McConnell.
But McConnell’s bucket with 4:30 left in the third quarter was the last the Belles would manage until Heather Rankin’s driving layup with 3:40 left in the game as Bryant put together the tell-tale push that started with Ashley Grappe feeding Slack for a short jay then hitting a jumper in the lane herself. Twice Starr Crow rejected shots by Vadjunec, but Vadjunec came back with a steal and earned a trip to the free-throw line.
In fact, Vadjunec accounted for 5 of Mount St. Mary’s 6 points during Bryant’s eruption, all at the free-throw line.
By the end of the third quarter, Blakley, Slack and Ashley Grappe had added to Bryant’s advantage. It was 40-31 going into the fourth quarter.
Blakley then opened the final period with a 3. After Vanjunec hit a pair of free throws, Dreher and Ashley Grappe worked a sparkling give and go and Grappe’s layup made it 45-33.
Free throws by Slack and Amanda Grappe extended the margin to 15 before Rankin ended Mount St. Mary’s drought.
Twice the Lady Hornets burned the Belles’ press with Slack feeding Hubbard for buckets from close range. Mount St. Mary’s managed just four free throws in the final 3:30 and Bryant continued to extend the lead.