By Rob Patrick
SHERIDAN — One more.
It’s a testament to the tremendous season the Bryant Lady Hornets freshmen have had that, as they enter the finals of the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference post-season tournament, just about everybody — except perhaps their opponents, the Cabot South Lady Panthers — fully expects them to win.
No pressure, right?
But that’s what being 27-0 in a season and a phenomenal 45-0 over the last two (for the bulk of the team) brings with it.
They will take on the Lady Panthers at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 18, at Sheridan’s Oliver Williams Gym.
The two combatants advanced through Wednesday’s semifinal games. Cabot South ended the season for the Mount St. Mary Mounties, 40-27, while the Lady Hornets escaped the red-hot (and home-standing) Sheridan Lady Stingers, 44-33. (Each of the final four teams in the tourney came out of the South Division of the CAJHC. Bryant won the division, Cabot South finished second.)[more]
“There’s no doubt,” stated Lady Hornets coach Eric Andrews, “the two best teams, I think, are playing in the finals. We’re going to have to be ready to play. They’ve got some great players.”
Another indication of the nature of Bryant’s season is that, of those 27 wins, only one was by less than a double-digit margin. That one was when Cabot South came to Bryant and went home with a 35-26 loss. But that game really wasn’t as close most of the way as Bryant’s trip to Cabot on Jan. 7, though it ended up a 47-34 victory.
The Lady Hornets had posted wins over Sheridan, 42-20 and 39-20, during the regular season and it looked like it was going to be a similar score early in Wednesday’s semifinal. The Lady Hornets led 14-3 after a quarter then 19-3 before Sheridan snapped a scoreless stretch of over five minutes.
“We were playing really well, just like we were planning to do,” Andrews recounted. “We got things rolling, got them to turn it over a few times, got some easy baskets. It went just as we planned it."
The Lady Hornets were playing so well they didn't suffer their first turnover until the 2:34 mark of the second quarter when their lead was 21-6.
“But then we got into a little foul trouble and we had to rotate some people out,” Andrews noted. “They got into a little halfcourt trap but, still yet, we’ve got players on the floor that should be able to handle that, no problem. We hadn’t seen it in a while and it kind of caught us off guard a little bit, and that was the difference. They got a couple of easy baskets right before the half, which gave them a little confidence. And we went in on a down note.”
With the Lady Hornets’ top two scorers and playmakers, McKenzie Adams and Kiara Moore, on the bench with two fouls each, Sheridan whittled the margin down to 21-11. McKenzie Rice picked up some of the slack with a pair of jumpers including one from the wing with 3:22 left in the period. But Bryant didn’t score the rest of the half.
The drought continued as the start of the second half. Bryant didn’t score again until Moore canned a 3 with 2:17 left in the third quarter. Sparked by forward Brandi Hubble, Sheridan had trimmed the lead to 21-18 by then. So Moore’s triple was huge.
After Hubble scored inside again, Moore drove the right side of the lane, scored and was fouled. When she completed the three-point play, the advantage was back up to 7. Adams, who would lead all scorers with 16 points, added a free throw in the final minute and the Lady Hornets took a 28-20 lead into the fourth quarter.
“I was real proud of my girls coming out in the second half and playing real good defense,” Andrews stated. “I thought we got called for some pretty tough fouls when I thought we were in position. But we got called for the fouls anyway and that’s something you’ve got to play through. I thought my girls did a good job of adjusting to that.”
Sheridan, which came into the game as hot as anybody short of the Lady Hornets riding a four-game win streak, scored to start the fourth quarter but a driving bucket by Adams provided an answer. After a Lady Stingers miss, Courtney Davidson got a running jumper to fall and, when Rice forced a held ball that went Bryant’s way off the carom from another Sheridan miss, Adams took advantage by slicing her way to the rack and scoring again.
Suddenly, the Lady Hornets’ lead was back to double digits at 34-22. And when Logan Davis made a steal and a layup, the margin was 14, as much as it had been since the 19-3 start.
But Sheridan wouldn't go away. Hubble kept attacking the basket on her way to a team-high 15 points. With just over a minute to play, she followed a missed free throw with a basket that cut the lead to 10. Adams made a free throw with :53.3 showing then Hubble drove for a hoop that to make it 40-31. And, after another Adams free throw, Rochelle Aguilar drove for a basket that had the margin down to 8.
That, however, was as close as the Lady Stingers could get. Moore, who finished with 12 points, converted 3 of 4 free throws in the final 25 seconds to finish off the win.
“We knew they’d be ready to play on their home floor and, just like every game in the tournament, somebody’s going home and nobody wants to,” Andrews commented.
The Lady Hornets got a scare along the way when post player Whitney Meyer went down with an apparent knee injury. She was able to walk off the court on her own but she did not return to the game.
Rice finished with 5 points, Davis and Davidson had 4 each. Lauren Buck pitched in with 3 including the opening basket of the game.
A three-point play by Adams off an offensive rebound made it 5-0 before Sheridan got on the board with a free throw from Allison Stipes and a basket by Josey Love.
Bryant’s 14-0 run followed, sparked by a 3 from Moore as she was fouled. Though she missed the free throw that would’ve made it a four-point play, Davidson scrambled after the rebound and got the ball to Adams in the corner. Her basket made it 10-3 and she followed with a quick steal and layup that forced a Sheridan timeout.
Davidson later scored on an inbounds play to make it 14-3 at the first break.
Another of Adams’ patented drives started the scoring in the second period but, moments later, she went to the bench after picking up her second foul.
Rice made a steal that led to a free throw by Buck but then Moore picked up her second foul and Andrews brought her to the bench to join Adams.
Hubble missed the front end of the one-and-one and the carom went out to the Lady Stingers. But Bryant forced a turnover than Rice cashed in from the baseline to make it 19-3.
Both teams struggled from the free-throw line in the contest. Sheridan was 8 of 16 including 2 for 8 in the first half. Bryant converted on just 10 of 20 from the line.
LADY HORNETS 44, LADY STINGERS 33
Score by quarters
Sheridan 3 8 9 13 — 33
BRYANT 14 7 7 16 — 44
LADY STINGERS 33
Love 3-8 0-0 6, Stipes 0-2 1-2 1, Aguilar 2-7 0-0 4, Hubble 4-5 7-14 15, Thompson 1-4 0-0 2, Sheridan 0-0 0-0 0, Moltz 1-1 0-0 3, Easter 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 12-29 8-16 33.
LADY HORNETS 44
Moore 3-5 4-6 12, Adams 6-9 4-8 16, Davis 2-8 0-0 4, Davidson 2-7 0-2 4, Buck 1-2 1-2 3, Rice 2-6 1-2 5, Meyer 0-1 0-0 0, Murphy 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 16-38 10-20 44.
Three-point field goals: Sheridan 1-3 (Moltz 1-1, Love 0-2), Bryant 2-8 (Moore 2-3, Davis 0-3, Davidson 0-2). Rebounds: Sheridan 30 (Love 11, Hubble 8), Bryant 21 (Rice 6, Davidson 5). Turnovers: Sheridan 16, Bryant 7. Team fouls: Sheridan 18, Bryant 18. Fouled out: Sheridan, Love.