Photos by Rick Nation
LITTLE ROCK — The Bryant Lady Hornets trailed the Mount St. Mary Academy Belles, 37-27, with 3:35 left in the third quarter on Tuesday night at the McCauley Center. In their most crucial game of the year so far, the Lady Hornets cobbled together a 15-2 run that had them in the lead by the 5:55 mark of the fourth quarter.
With a clutch basket by Kendal Rogers and just enough free throws, including two each by Raija Todd and Emily Ridgell in the final 40 seconds, Bryant held on for a 50-45 win.
It was not only the Lady Hornets’ first 7A/6A-Central Conference win, it was a big first step towards qualifying for the Class 7A State Tournament since it was a victory over a fellow 7A member of the Central.
Ridgell led the Lady Hornets with 17 points and Todd had 14. Rachael Miller contributed 8 key points, Raven Loveless 5, Rogers 4 and Destiny Martin 2.
But it was the team’s defense, particularly in the second half that proved key. Using a press, half-court man and, in the late going, an effective zone, the Lady Hornets forced 23 turnovers and held the Belles to 38 percent shooting that included 1 of 6 from the field in the fourth quarter.
“We fought, fought and fought,” said Bryant coach Brad Matthews. “When you’re on the road — Mount St. Mary’s, I thought they had a great crowd. It’s a tough place to play. Coach (Gary) Murphy’s done a great job. They’re a much-improved team. For our kids to get down double digits in the second half on the road and still find a way to come back and fight and win in a huge game in our 7A league — so few games (six) determine whether you go to State — man, I was so proud of our kids.
“I thought our defense was a little bit better in the second half,” he added. “We were able to kind of keep their offense under control a little bit more than we did in the first half.
“We made enough plays down the stretch,” the coach continued. “I thought all seven kids that played really contributed a lot. It wasn’t always perfect but, when in you’re in mid-January, you find a way to fight and claw and win.”
The Belles got off to a hot start and built a 16-8 lead by the end of the first quarter, sparked by Lizzie Allgood who scored 7 in the period on her way to a game-high 20 points. She hit a 3 and so did Anna Crawford.
Allgood hit another triple in the second quarter but hurt the Lady Hornets as much inside as she gathered eight rebounds in the game and got to the free-throw line for 10 attempts.
Bryant cut the lead to 20-16 midway through the second quarter but a three-point play by Allgood followed by two more free throws extended the margin to 8. Miller scored inside off a nice feed from Ridgell. Followed two free throws by Mount’s Grace Clark, Ridgell drilled an 18-footer and converted a pair of free throws after a MSM turnover.
Still, the Belles led 29-24 at the half.
Conley Norris hit a 3, Abby Bingenheimer scored inside and Allgood produced another three-point play as the lead grew to 37-27 with 3:35 left in the third.
Bryant surge began with Loveless made a strong play, grabbing a rebound and scoring. After Loveless made a steal, Todd drilled a baseline jumper to make it 37-31.
Two free throws from Yaleri Kauffman interrupted but Miller answered by stepping outside and nailed a 3. Ridgell drove for a basket with :14 left in the quarter and the Belles’ lead was down to 39-36 going into the final eight minutes.
The run continued with a drive by Miller. Todd connected twice from the free-throw line and the Lady Hornets had their first lead, 40-39, since early in the game. Following a Mount turnover and timeout, Rogers found Ridgell cutting to the basket for a hoop that increased Bryant’s lead to 42-39.
Allgood and Ridgell traded free throws and Mount was within 43-42 with 3:10 to go. Todd fed Loveless who was fouled. She converted once to make it a 2-point game. Ridgell then came up with a steal and, with 2:21 left, Rogers made a nice drive from the wing down the lane and pulled up for a clutch basket that made it a two-possession game.
The Belles missed several opportunities to trim the margin then finally did when Allgood got behind the Bryant press for a layup. With :41 left, the Lady Hornets’ lead was just 46-44.
After taking a timeout, the Belles came out in a press but the Lady Hornets solved it. With :37.4 to go, Todd drained a pair of free throws. In turn, Mount’s Mary Rhinehart couldn’t get either of her two free throws to go down. Ridgell grabbed the rebound and the Lady Hornets worked the clock down to :13.5, twice taking a timeout to secure possession. Ridgell put the finishing touches on the victory with two free throws.
Rhinehart made it 50-45 with a free throw at the :03.3 mark. On the inbounds play, Rogers was fouled as the horn sounded ending the game. Matthews lobbied the officials to let Rogers shoot her free throws but to no avail. Those could be key if a tiebreaker situation develops and it comes down to margin of victory.
But for now, the Lady Hornets are one step closer to returning to the State tourney.
They’ll try to take another step this Friday when they host the Van Buren Pointerettes.