SPRINGDALE — It was well worth the wait.
The Bryant Lady Hornets spent their fourth night in a row in a hotel on Friday night as the Class 7A State basketball tournament at Springdale Har-Ber High School kept being pushed back due to bad weather. They finally got to play on Saturday and, well, how about another night at the hotel?
Why not go for a week?
Seniors Jakeria Otey and Lauren Carroll each made free throws in the final 20 seconds of overtime as the Lady Hornets wrenched a 64-59 victory out of the grasp of the Bentonville Lady Tigers on Saturday afternoon.
That sets up a meeting with the highly-regarded Little Rock Central Lady Tigers on Sunday at 3:30 p.m., in the qurterfinals of the tourney.
Otey scored 23 points, Carroll 19. Junior Emily Ridgell connected on a pair of crucial 3-point daggers during the fourth quarter on her way to 7 points. Freshman Raija Todd scored all 6 of her points to help keep the Lady Hornets close in the third quarter. Senior Maddie Baxter had 5. Post players Rachel Miller and Cayla McDowell scored 2 apiece, though each fouled out trying to fend off the Bentonville post players and cutters.
“I’m proud of our kids, so happy for them,” said Bryant coach Brad Matthews. “They work really hard. This is my first State Tournament win at Bryant, fourth year here. It’s good to get that off my back and be able to look forward to a tremendously talented Central team.
“Bentonville is so well-coached.” he added. “(Lady Tigers coach) Tom (Halbmaier) does such a great job and they’ve got really good players. Now that we won, I thought it was a really good high school game; really exciting, back and forth, good tempo. We made enough plays down the stretch to pull it out in overtime.”
Indeed, both team kept making clutch plays. But both missed chances to win it in regulation. With Bryant trailing 50-49 going into the final minute, Ridgell drilled a cold-blooded 3 with :53 to go to put Bryant ahead by 2.
It came just after Miller had picked up her fifth foul on what looked like a clean block on Bentonville’s Lauren Hargus. Her free throws had given the Lady Tigers the lead.
In response, Bentonville had Peyton Taylor post up. The Lady Tigers got her the ball and she was fouled with :31 to go. Her free throws, part of a 17-point performance, knotted it at 52.
The Lady Hornets held the ball unil Matthews called a timeout with :09.6 on the clock. He set up a play to get Otey an open path to the basket down the left side and it worked marvelously. She got a step on the defender and when the help defense moved over, she pulled up for a jumper. There was contact but no call. Bentonville rebounded and called timeout with one second on the clock near midcourt.
Matthews was beside himself at the no call on Otey’s shot. It looked like a game-winner, especially since the senior guard wound up 11 of 12 from the free-throw line in the game.
Halbmaier came up with a pretty good play to get his team a shot at the win too. The Lady Tigers cleared a passing lane to junior post Maren Johnston on the block. She’d maneuvered to get the smaller Bryant defender behind her, took the pass and turned to shoot from 6 feet out. It rimmed out and the game went to overtime.
“We drill post defense with everybody, from point guards to post,” said Matthews about trying to guard the post with guards. “We’ve got two traditional-type posts. Fortunately for us, there were many games this year where we played five guards. So that wasn’t that unusual.”
To start the overtime, Baxter forced a held ball but the Lady Hornets weren’t able to capitalize. Madison Brittain hit a free throw to give Bentonville the initial lead. Moments later, however, Ridgell out-maneuvered Johnston for an offensive rebound and was fouled. Johnston fouled out on the play and Ridgell tied it at the line.
The teams starterd trading the lead. Taylor scored to snap the tie but free throws by Carroll and Otey had Bryant up 56-55 with 1:59 to go. Taylor and Otey traded free throws then Brittain scored to give the Lady Tigers a 59-58 lead with :58 left.
Bryant rushed the ball up the court and Carroll hit a layup with :49 left to give Bryant the lead. It was the lone Lady Hornets’ field goal of the extra period.
Baxter nearly made a steal on Bentonville’s ensuing trip. They went inside to Taylor again but, surrounded by three Bryant players, she couldn’t get a shot to go as Halbmeier erupted in protest of no foul call.
Otey was fouled with :16.1 left and converted twice to make it a 3-point game. After a timeout, Bentonville couldn’t free up sharp-shooter Jordan Martin. They had to settle fo an open look at a 3 for Brittain. It rimmed out. Carroll rebounded and was fouled with :01 left. She converted both shots to seal the victory.
Martin, who scored a game-high 25 points, didn’t take a single shot in the overtime.
“Taylor, Brittain and Martin are really, really good players,” Matthews stated. “They’re so hard to guard. They put so much pressure on your defense. We gave up some easy stuff but a lot of that was due to their good stuff.”
As for the Lady Hornets, Matthews has insisted all season that they attack the defense and they did so effectively, either scoring or getting to the line. Bryant was 20 of 25 at the stripe, while Bentonville was 21 of 28.
“I think that’s what we do best,” the coach said of the aggressiveness on offense. “It wouldn’t be very smart for us to get away from what we do best. We try to put our kids in a position to make good plays and we made enough of those today to win.”
It didn’t hurt that they hit 8 of 17 from 3-point range either. Otey was 4 of 8.
The Lady Tigers out-rebounded the Lady Hornets 30-22 but Bryant forced 17 turnovers while committing just 9.
Bentonville got out to a 9-4 start, forcing Matthews to take an early timeout. Baxter fed Miller for a basket. After Martin knocked down a jumper, Baxter drilled a 3. The Lady Tigers led 13-9 at the end of the first quarter.
Brittain scored the first hoop of the second quarter to make it a 6-point lead again and, once more, Matthews called a timeout.
The Lady Hornets kept hanging around. They were cheered on by the Bryant boys basketball team, which, despite suffering a gut-punch 4-point loss on Friday night, was there cheering on the girls. In fact, after the game, the Bentonville principal lauded the Hornets for the support they showed.
The Lady Tigers managed a lead of as much as 8 in the second quarter, their largest of the game. Carroll stepped out and turned the momentum with a 3. Martin scored off a back-door cut to the hoop but Otey followed a third Bryant timeout with back-to-back 3’s that whittled the lead to 1.
Johnston converted two free throws with 1:15 left then neither team scored until the closing seconds when Carroll came flying down the court to toss in a running jumper at the buzzer, making it 23-22.
Bentonville led 27-24 just over two minutes into the third quarter. That’s when Todd came to live to help the Lady Hornets surge into the lead. First, Otey popped two free throws. Todd then made a steal and a layup and Bryant had its first lead since 4-2.
A free throw by Carroll and a driving jumper by Todd made it 31-27, forcing a Bentonville timeout with 3:30 left in the quarter.
Hargus ended a scoring drought for her team with a free throw but Carroll trumped that with a three-point play and a 6-point lead.
Martin sparked a surge back by the Lady Tigers, though, and on the strength of her two free throws with :02.2 left, they were back up 39-37 going into the fourth stanza.
Otey’s fourth trey came with 5:28 left and tied the game at 42. Taylor untied it at the line but McDowell stepped to the stripe and coolly matched her with both ends of a one-and-one at 4:42.
The two teams traded misses then Otey made a steal. She fed Carroll for a layup and a 46-44 edge. And the Lady Hornets got the ball back by forcing a 5-second call. As Todd hounded Hargus, she couldn’t fine a teammate to pass it to.
With a 2-point lead and time down under 3 minutes, Ridgell, who was scoreless to that point, swished a 3 to extend the lead to 5.
But Martin answered from deep and, after a Bryant miss, Taylor tied it at the free-throw line with 2:05 left at McDowell fouled out. Another Bryant miss and Bentonville regained the lead on Hargus’ free throw as Miller fouled out, setting up Ridgell’s second troika.
LADY HORNETS 64, LADY TIGERS 59
Score by quarters
BRYANT 9 13 15 15 12 — 64
Bentonville 13 10 16 13 7 — 59
LADY HORNETS (15-12) 64
Otey 4-12 11-12 23, Carroll 6-18 6-9 19, Baxter 2-4 0-0 5, Todd 3-7 0-0 6, Miller 1-1 0-0 2, Rogers 0-0 0-0 0, D.Martin 0-0 0-0 0, Ridgell 2-5 1-2 7, McDowell 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 18-47 (38%) 20-25 (80%) 64.
LADY TIGERS (17-10) 59
Hargus 0-2 2-4 2, J.Martin 9-10 5-5 25, Johnston 1-4 2-2 4, Taylor 4-8 9-12 17, Brittain 4-14 1-3 9, Byford 0-1 0-0 0, Clark 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 18-39 (46%) 21-28 (75%) 59.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 8-17 (Otey 4-8, Ridgell 2-3, Carroll 1-3, Baxter 1-2, Todd 0-1), Bentonville 2-11 (J.Martin 2-3, Brittain 0-6, Taylor 0-2). Turnovers: Bryant 9, Bentonville 17. Rebounds: Bryant 5-17 22 (Otey 0-6 6, Carroll 0-3 3, Baxter 0-2 2, Miller 0-2 2, Ridgell 2-0 2, McDowell 0-2 2, Todd 0-1 1, Rogers 0-1 1, team 3-0 3), Bentonville 5-25 30 (Taylor 1-8 9, Johnston 2-6 8, Hargus 0-5 5, Brittain 0-5 5, J.Martin 2-0 2, team 0-1 1). Team fouls: Bryant 22, Bentonville 16. Fouled out: Bryant, McDowell, Miller; Bentonville, Johnston.