Junior Hornets’ clutch play pins first loss on Lakeside

PEARCY — With four starters over 6-2, it figured that the undefeated Hot Springs Lakeside Rams freshman[more] team would be hard to beat on the boards, particularly by a team with no one over 6-0 like the Bryant Hornets freshmen.

Of course, rebounding is as much about positioning, determination and hustle as anything.

The Hornets, clinging to a one-point lead in the late stages of the game, twice had a player at the free-throw line shooting a one-and-one. And both times, despite being out-numbered 4-2 as well as out-sized, Bryant’s K.J. Hill then Ryan Hall rebounded the misses, got the ball back outside, ate some more time and eventually got back to the line where Hill converted enough to hold on for a 30-27 win.

Now 8-4 overall, the Hornets will play in the championship game of the annual Kameron Hale Memorial Invitational Tournament at Lake Hamilton High School. They’ll take on an 8-1 Hot Springs team in the final today at 6:30. Bryant accounted for the Junior Trojans’ only loss, 30-20, on Nov. 14, at the Bryant Invitational.

“Our kids just really played well,” stated Bryant coach Jim Pennington. “As a matter of fact, we put something in that we had not even worked on. We met early (Thursday) and put it in and the kids just executed. For not being able to have really practiced it very much, they just did a great job.

“Those two rebounds were really big,” he acknowledged. “Just huge plays. If we don’t get those, we probably don’t win. I’m really proud of the effort. That takes effort. They just went and got it, battled for it and made really big plays.

“To beat a team like Lakeside, that’s what you have to do,” the coach added. “You’ve got to have kids make plays at certain times. Our kids just played so well, under control and just executed so well.”

Bryant held a 7-6 edge after a quarter but scored just 1 point in the second and trailed 11-8 at the half. They put together a third-quarter surge, taking a 17-15 lead going into the fourth quarter.

“That third quarter was the key to the game,” Pennington stated. “We came out and go up by about 7 or so at one point. We just played really good defense. We handled their pressure. They hurt us on the boards some in the fourth quarter but K.J. hit 4 out of 6 free throws in the fourth and we kind of held on there.”

Hill led the Hornets with 17 points. J.C. Newborn added 6, Ryan Hall 4 and Brandan Warner 3.

“The kids took their time, played very unselfishly, got the ball to K.J. and he made things happen,” Pennington noted. “He either scored or dished off to J.C. or Ryan for layups. He really did a good job.

“And John Winn was everywhere for us,” he added. “He played great defense, rebounded, ran down balls, diving on the floor. I think he took one shot in the whole game but, based on where he was playing, he didn’t have an opportunity to based on what we were having to do. But he’s very unselfish.”

Pennington explained that the Rams provided a challenge at both ends of the floor.

“Lakeside really extends their 1-3-1 and they’re really big for a junior high team with a 6-3 player out on top, a very good, athletic kid,” he said. “Then they have a 6-3 in the middle of it, two 6-2’s on the wing and a 5-10 kid on the back. They really spread out and try to make you make decisions. They trap you in the corners, trap you on the top and you’ve got to be able to keep the ball moving and get the ball where you need to then attack when you get it there.

“We wanted K.J. in the middle of their zone and to let him make a play,” he concluded. “And he can do it.”

Defensively, the Hornets used their own zone, matching up against the Rams’ outside shooters and sagging back against the others.

“We just played tough, rebounded, didn’t give them anything easy,” Pennington said. “Everything they got, they worked for.”

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