By Rob Patrick
NORTH LITTLE ROCK — There was a group of three or four very vocal fans[more] of the North Little Rock Lady Charging Wildcats freshman team sitting behind the scorers table on Monday night at the North Little Rock gym. They were berating the officials most of the evening, charging that Bryant was paying them, that the glasses one of them was wearing needed new lenses and that their beloved Lady Cats quintet was having to contend with eight opponents — the five Lady Hornets plus the three officials.
Not that facts should get in way of a fan’s rooting interest but the Lady Cats shot 23 free throws in the game and the Lady Hornets attempted four. And all four of Bryant’s opportunities came in the first half.
The real problem for those North Little Rock fans? Despite that discrepancy, the Lady Hornets beat their team in one of the Bryant team’s grittiest efforts of the season, 34-25.
The Lady Hornets, who improved to 12-9 overall this season and 3-2 in the 7A/6A-Central Junior High Conference, include Aubree Allen, Jessica Alliston, Andrea Buford, Ashlee Caton, Caylin Choate, Dezarea Duckworth, Kaitlyn Greer, Keedy Harrison, Taylor Matthews, Dee-Dee Mosby, Melinda Murdock, Amber Newman, Destiny Nichols, Brittany Privett, Erica Smith, Rori Whittaker and Alex Wright.
Bryant head coach Nathan Castaldi acknowledged that his team didn’t get many breaks in the game. “We didn’t. We had to make our own. Thankfully, we made enough in the second half to pull it out and I was real proud of our toughness there in that second half.”
Defense, despite the fouls, was key for Bryant. The Lady Cats committed 13 turnovers, converted just 7 of 37 shots from the field (19 percent), and, though they attempted 23 free throws, they converted just 11 (which was still almost half of their points). North Little Rock managed just 2 points in the fourth quarter.
The Lady Cats were able to get so many opportunities because, of their 34 rebounds, 23 came at the offensive end.
The Lady Hornets, meanwhile, overcame a sluggish start and actually made the Lady Cats pay for pressing, beating it repeatedly for layups while only suffering 10 turnovers in the game with four of those coming in the opening quarter.
“That was the big thing,” Castaldi related. “Not only were we getting it past half-court and getting into our offense but we were scoring against it. And really, that was their biggest weapon against us in the first half. We passed the ball much better in the second half and didn’t make just one extra pass, we made two or three passes to find the open person for the layup.”
Actually, Bryant’s slow start was only topped by the struggles that North Little Rock had initially. The Lady Hornets built a 6-2 lead in the first quarter on baskets by Duckworth and Nichols but it took them the first four minutes of the game to get there.
Meanwhile, North Little Rock couldn’t manage a field goal until Markela Bryles got a stickback with 1:09 left in the first quarter. But that started a 9-0 run for the Lady Cats. The game was tied at 6 going into the second stanza then it was 11-6 before Allen scored on a nice inbounds play to break Bryant’s dry run.
Bryles, who scored 11 of her game-high 14 points in the first half and had 7 during the 9-0 run, added an offensive-rebound bucket in answer to Allen, making it 13-8.
But Whittaker canned a 15-footer to start an 8-2 run by the Lady Hornets to finish out the first half. Duckworth and Bryles traded hoops then in the final 1:30, Duckworth drove for a layup off a steal then, following another North Little Rock turnover, hit a short jumper off a nice feed from Allen that had the Lady Hornets back in front, 16-15, at the break.
After North Little Rock’s Courtney Hines missed two chances to give her team the lead early in the third quarter, Whittaker stopped and popped a 5-footer to extend the Bryant lead. Kiara Webb converted a pair from the line for the Lady Cats but then Allen and Smith scored back-to-back buckets to give the Lady Hornets a 5-point lead.
Thanks in large part to consecutive three-point plays by Bryles and Dajha Hardamon, North Little Rock made a charge to regain the lead at 23-22. But it didn’t last long. Whittaker drove for a layup to beat the press and, after a turnover, drained jumper from the baseline.
Bryant never trailed again.
It was 26-23 going into the final six minutes. Webb opened the scoring in the fourth quarter with a free throw at the 5:45 mark then North Little Rock did not score again until Courtney Boutte converted a free throw with :45.6 to go, setting the final score.
In the interim, Allen scored off a feed from Duckworth and, a minute later, the Lady Hornets beat the press again as Allen got free for a layup. She would add a basket off an inbounds play under the Bryant hoop and an offensive-rebound basket with 2:15 left that made it a 10-point difference.
Allen finished with 12 points, all 8 of her team’s total in the final period. Duckworth finished with 10 and Whittaker 8. Allen led with eight rebounds and Smith had seven.
The Lady Hornets host Mount St. Mary Academy of Little Rock this Thursday then close out the regular season at Conway Blue on Monday, Feb. 7, and at home against Lake Hamilton in a make-up game the next night before opening play in the league’s post-season tournament at Benton.
LADY HORNETS 34, JUNIOR LADY CHARGING WILDCATS 25
Score by quarters
BRYANT 6 10 10 8 — 34
No. Little Rock 6 9 8 2 — 25
LADY HORNETS 34
Nichols 1-2 0-0 2, Duckworth 5-8 0-1 10, Allen 6-13 0-0 12, Whittaker 4-8 0-0 8, Smith 1-3 0-0 2, Choate 0-1 0-2 0, Bufored 0-1 0-0 0, Greer 0-1 0-0 0, Harrison 0-2 0-1 0, Newman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-39 0-4 34.
JUNIOR LADY CATS 25
Gatlin 0-0 0-0 0, Bryles 5-11 4-9 14, Miles 0-3 0-0 0, Hines 0-3 2-2 2, Collins 0-0 0-2 0, Hardamon 1-12 1-3 3, Boutte 0-0 1-2 1, Webb 1-6 3-4 5, Mosler 0-1 0-0 0, Anderson 0-1 0-1 0. Totals 7-37 11-23 25.
Three-point field goals: North Little Rock 0-6 (Hardamon 0-3, Miles 0-2, Mosler 0-1). Rebounds: Bryant 29 (Allen 8, Smith 7), North Little Rock 34 (Bryles 9, Hines 8). Turnovers: Bryant 10, North Little Rock 13. Team fouls: Bryant 16, North Little Rock 13.