For more photos of this event by Kevin Nagle, go here
CONWAY — With two key players from their rotation out of action with injuries, the Bryant Lady Hornets closed ranks and got back on the winning track on Monday to open the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference post-season tournament at Buzz Bolding Arena.
Lauren Lain scored 14 of her game-high 16 points in the first half as the Lady Hornets ran out to a 25-10 lead at intermission. The lead ballooned to as much as 18 in the third quarter before Cabot South intensified its full-court pressure to go on a 10-0 run down the stretch, closing the gap to 6.
But Emileigh Muse and Lyniyae Johnson hit clutch free throws in the final minute as the Lady Hornets held on for a 37-28 win.
“That’s kind of been our Achilles heel throughout the year,” allowed Lady Hornets head coach Nathan Castaldi. “Emileigh stepped up and knocked one down for us, which was big to kind of get a little confidence going. Then Lyniyae stepped up.”
The victory came on the heels of a tough 30-29 setback at Benton last Thursday. Bryant improved to 17-4 on the season going into the tourney semifinals against regular-season champion North Little Rock on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.
Early in the season, the Lady Hornets handed North Little Rock a 38-22 home loss. But during conference play on Jan. 30, North Little Rock managed a 31-28 win at Bryant.
Lain wound up with a double-double as she hauled down 11 rebounds. The Lady Hornets out-boarded the Lady Panthers 35-24 with 19 caroms on the offensive end.
Seven girls played for the Lady Hornets on Monday and all seven added to the scoring. Haya Winfield finished with 6, Johnson 5 and Muse 4.
“Lauren played a heck of a ball game,” acknowledged Castaldi. “The first half was about as good as we could ask for. Coach (Sontreka) Johnson (Castaldi’s assistant) and I talked about the importance of playing fast and starting fast, getting a little confidence without a couple of our girls in there tonight. And I thought we couldn’t have planned it any better.”
The game was tied at 2 early on when Lain drove for her first bucket, starting a 17-4 burst to finish up the opening quarter. After Lain hit a short jumper, Cabot South’s Carly Madar hit a free throw and it was 6-3.
But Muse drilled a 3 and, off a turnover, Lain hit a pull-up jay to extend the margin to 8.
Miyah Christopher found an offensive rebound and scored for the Lady Panthers but Jaedyn Allen drove for a bucket at the other end. A turnover led to a trip to the free throw line for Lain and a Cabot South timeout.
She converted both shots and, after Christopher sank one with :43.7 left, Mia Winston popped an 18-footer for Bryant and, off another Cabot South turnover, Lain drove for a layup and it was 19-6.
The Lady Hornets didn’t quite produce as much offense in the second quarter, but the Lady Panthers were unable to make much headway. It was 21-10 going into the final two minutes of the half. Lain followed her own miss and Abby Gentry splashed a 15-footer to make set the halftime score.
Christopher scored the first basket of the second half off a steal. But Johnson popped a 3 and, after a pair of Lady Panthers missed, Lain hit a short jay to extend the lead to 32-10.
It was 32-14 going into the fourth.
Megan Moudy’s 3 started the scoring in the final period but Winfield countered to make it 34-18 with 4:35 left. Winfield made a steal, but the Lady Hornets turned it back over and that kind of started Cabot South’s rally.
Bryant wound up with 18 turnovers in the game, nine of them came during Cabot South’s fourth-quarter rally.
“We’ve just got to redefine some of those roles,” Castaldi said regarding the press offense. “We’ve got some different players in different spots. We got a little frustrated. We kind of let them get into us.
“It was a little different type of pressure,” he related. “They were a lot more handsy, a lot more kind of physical with their pressure than we’ve been used to. That gave us a little problem.
“Tonight, (the officials) let them play a little rougher, but we have to adjust to that,” the coach asserted. “It was like that all game. We took advantage of that inside too. I think some of the times on some of our blocks, they might’ve been wanting some fouls. You have to adjust to the officials each night.”
Madar started Cabot South’s run with a driving jumper. Taylor Usery scored then, after a flurry of turnovers by both teams, Madar scored off the offensive glass. Another Bryant turnover and an over-abundance of frustration led to a technical foul and a free throw by Baylee Beaver to make it 34-25 with 1:54 left.
Trying to foul to get Bryant to the bonus, the Lady Panthers forced a turnover that Blyss Miller cashed in with a 3, cutting the margin to 6 with :58 left.
But that was the last of Cabot South’s scoring.
Muse’s free throw ended a scoreless spell of nearly four minutes for Bryant. Winfield rebounded her missed second shot but her follow rimmed out.
The teams traded turnovers then Ally Miller missed a shot for Cabot South and Muse rebounded. She got it ahead to Johnson who was fouled with :21.1 showing. She knocked down both shots to secure the win.
LADY HORNETS 37, LADY PANTHERS 28
Score by quarters
Cabot South 6 4 5 13 — 28
BRYANT 19 6 7 5 — 37
LADY PANTHERS 28
Usery 1-5 0-0 2, Christopher 5-8 1-2 11, Moudy 1-5 1-2 4, Madar 3-9 1-4 7, Beaver 0-3 1-2 1, A. Miller 0-3 0-0 0, B.Miller 1-3 0-0 3, Scales 0-0 0-0 0, Lendermon 0-1 0-0 0, Sitzman 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 11-40 (28%) 4-10 (40%) 28.
LADY HORNETS 37
Lain 7-13 2-2 16, Muse 1-9 1-2 4, Johnson 1-5 2-4 5, Winfield 3-9 0-0 6, Allen 1-2 0-0 2, Gentry 1-2 0-0 2, Winston 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 15-43 (35%) 5-8 (63%) 37.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 2-12 (Muse 1-7, Johnson 1-2, Allen 0-1, Gentry 0-1, Winston 0-1), Cabot South 2-16 (B.Miller 1-3, Moudy 1-2, Sitzmann 0-3, Usery 0-2, A.Miller 0-2, Christopher 0-1, Madar 0-1, Beaver 0-1, Lendermon 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 18, Cabot South 15. Rebounds: Bryant 19-16 35 (Lain 6-5, Winfield 5-1 6, Johnson 3-3 6, Muse 1-2 3, Gentry 2-1 3, Winston 0-2 2, Allen 1-1 2, team 1-1 2), Cabot South 12-12 24 (Mardar 3-2 5, Christopher 3-1 4, Scales 1-3 4, Usery 1-1 2, B.Miller 1-1 2, Beaver 0-1 1, A.Miller 0-1 1, team 3-2 5). Team fouls: Bryant 8, Cabot South 10. Technical foul: Bryant, Allen.