FORT SMITH — A free throw or two would’ve definitely helped the Bryant Lady Hornets down the stretch but, since they went 0 for 4 at the line in the final three minutes of play, they wound up having to hold their collective breaths as Fort Smith Southside’s Hannah Schmidt attempted a 3-pointer in the final seconds that would’ve won it for the Lady Mavericks. But the shot came off the iron, no good, as the Lady Hornets held on for a 43-42 victory that punched their ticket for the Class 7A State Tournament in North Little Rock with three games left to play in the regular season.
“That’s great,” declared Lady Hornets head coach Brad Matthews. “After missing out last year — boy, it was miserable. There’s nothing to do that week. You can’t show your face. You’re embarrassed you didn’t make it. At least this gets us back in and we’re still improving.
“Tonight, we had spurts where we played pretty well, and we had spurts of not playing very well,” he said. “We’ve got to continue to work but, to be in the State tournament with three games still to go is a good feeling.”
The Lady Hornets made it relying on two juniors — one returning starter — and a bunch of sophomores, not including two — McKenzie Muse and Ty Robinson — that were pegged as starters at the beginning of the season. Muse, a 6-1 player, was lost to a knee injury and Robinson tweaked a knew early in the season before moving away.
Bryant got three big baskets from one of those juniors, Robyn Gordon in the fourth quarter. When she scored off a feed from Tierra Trotter and was fouled with 2:49 left, it gave the Lady Hornets a 43-37 lead. She missed the ensuing free throw but Celena Martin yanked down the rebound and Matthews called a timeout.
But Gordon missed, and the rebound wound up a held ball. Southside gained control on the alternating possessions and Montana Smith cut into the lead with a 3.
Bryant called a timeout and, when play resumed, they worked the clock down to 1:04 when they fouled Gordon. With a one-and-one, however, she missed the front end and, with :47 showing on the clock, Hannah Rainwater scored inside to make it a one-point game.
Another empty trip to the line was followed by a steal from Martin but, in the scramble, the Lady Hornets lost possession. Trotter stole it right back and, with :12.9 showing, she was fouled.
But her first shot refused to fall as well.
But Matthews, noting that his team had only committed four fouls in the half so far, instructed junior guard Kalia Walker to foul three times on the ensuing possession, eating into Southside’s remaining time. The sixth foul came with :06.5 showing and the Lady Mavs took a timeout to set up the final try.
And they got an open look for Schmidt but to no avail.
“Wow, what a finish,” Matthews exhaled. “This is very reminiscent of going 14 of 34 against Mount St. Mary’s then we go to Mount St. Mary’s and we go 19 of 21 from the free-throw line. Young kids are young kids.”
Overall, Bryant wound up 4 of 16 at the line. Southside fared little better at 5 of 10.
“I thought we showed some inexperience tonight, handling it when they started making it hectic at the end,” Matthews commented. “But, to our kids’ credit, we found a way. Southside’s a hungry team and we were able to hold them off on the road. I was very proud of our kids.
“It wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty there at the end, but we’ll take a win on the road,” he concluded. “That’s two in a row we’ve won on the road in this league and I couldn’t be happier for our kids.”
Overall, Bryant improves to 10-13. In conference play, the Lady Hornets are 5-6 and alone in fifth place, three games ahead of Cabot and Southside. They host Cabot on Friday.
Trotter finished with 11 points to lead the scoring. Martin had 9 to go with eight rebounds. Walker added 8 points, Ivory Russ 7 and Gordon 6 to go with eight boards.
Southside was led by Kelly Carson with 14 and Smith with 9.
The Lady Hornets started the game on one of those good spurts Matthews mentioned, building a 14-2 lead. It was 7-0 on a drive by Martin, a free throw by Russ and layups by Russ and Trotter.
Melanie Rice interrupted with a basket inside but before the Lady Mavs could score again, Walker nailed a 3, India Atkins drove for a hoop and Walker added two free throws.
Southside, however, closed the first quarter with a 9-0 run to make it 14-11 at the first break.
The game was eventually deadlocked at 16. Southside missed a chance to take the lead with an empty trip to the foul line. Trotter hit a 3 with just under three minutes left in the half but a three-point play by London Jones squared it up again.
Carson put Southside ahead, but Trotter tied it by hitting a pull-up jumper off a drive. So, it was 17-17 at the half.
The lead seesawed in the second half after Russ drove for a basket to give Bryant the upper hand.
With 1:29 left, Southside held a 34-32 advantage. Martin hit a free throw with 1:06 to go then, off a Lady Mavs’ miss, Trotter hauled in the long rebound and went coast-to-coast for a layup as she was fouled. Her basket gave the Lady Hornets a 35-34 lead going into the fourth.
A three-point play by Carson put Southside back on top in the early stages of the final stanza. But the Lady Hornets got the ball to Gordon inside for a basket and, off a Southside miss, Martin drove for a basket to put Bryant back up.
Rainwater misfired and Martin yanked down the carom. With 3:42 left, Gordon scored inside again then blocked a shot by Rainwater. The Lady Mavs retained possession but Atkins and Walker combined for force a turnover that led to Gordon’s basket that had the Lady Hornets ahead by 6.
LADY HORNETS 43, LADY MAVERICKS 42
Score by quarters
BRYANT 14 7 14 8 — 43
FS Southside 11 10 13 8 — 42
LADY HORNETS (10-13, 5-6) 43
Trotter 5-11 0-2 11, Walker 2-5 2-2 8, Atkins 1-6 0-2 2, Martin 4-5 1-2 9, Russ 3-7 1-2 7, Gordon 3-5 0-5 6, Baker 0-0 0-1 0, Taylor 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-39 (46%) 4-16 (25%) 43.
LADY MAVERICKS (3-18, 2-9) 42
Carson 5-15 2-3 14, Kleck 1-2 2-4 4, Smith 3-7 0-0 9, Rice 3-5 0-2 6, Rainwater 1-6 0-0 2, Graham 1-3 0-0 2, Fondren 1-3 0-0 2, Schmidt 0-4 0-0 0, Jones 1-3 1-1 3. Totals 16-48 (33%) 5-10 (50%) 42.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 3-7 (Walker 2-3, Trotter 1-3, Atkins 0-1), FS Southside 5-17 (Smith 3-7, Carson 2-6, Schmidt 0-2, Fondren 0-1, Jones 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 15, FS Southside 12. Rebounds: Bryant 11-23 34 (Martin 4-4 8, Gordon 2-6 8, Trotter 0-5 5, Russ 1-3 4, Atkins 3-0 3, Walker 0-1 1, Taylor 0-1 1, team 1-3 4), FS Southside 11-20 31 (Kleck 4-2 6, Rainwater 0-6 6, Fondren 0-4 4, Schmidt 0-3 3, Rice 2-0 2, Smith 1-1 2, Jones 1-1 2, Carson 0-1 1, team 3-2 5). Team fouls: Bryant 14, FS Southside 16.