By Rob Patrick
HOT SPRINGS — Three down, one to go.
By outlasting the Central Arkansas Christian Lady Mustangs in the finals of the Summit Bank Spa City Shootout at Summit Arena Wednesday night, the Bryant Lady Hornets claimed their third tournament championship of the season.
They’d love to win a fourth.
But that fourth one won’t be an invitational tourney like the first three. They’ll have to earn their way by battling through the 7A-Central Conference and qualifying for the Class 7A State tournament at the end of the season.
And, of course, they dream of returning to Summit Arena, since it's where the championship of each of the state classifications will be played again this season.
But head coach Blake Condley insists that he and his team aren’t looking that far ahead now.
“The State tournament’s important,” he acknowledged. “But that’s such a long time from now and there’s so many good teams that we’ll have to play. I just continue to hope we can keep getting better and that we’ll be playing at a high level when we get there.
“And we want to make sure that we get there but we want the girls to enjoy their time as they go,” he added. “They want to enjoy each game and I encourage them to do that, to not look ahead and just enjoy each game. The things at the end of the season will take care of themselves. Let’s just enjoy it while you’re here.
“I’m just tickled to death for the girls to be sitting in this spot right now,” Condley mentioned.
This spot includes a 12-0 record going into their final non-conference game at Sheridan on Tuesday, Jan. 5. They open play in the 7A-Central at home against Mount St. Mary’s Academy on Friday, Jan. 8.
CAC defeated Mount’s Belles in Tuesday’s semifinals to earn the shot at the title. The Lady Mustangs dropped to 9-4 on the season.
“This was probably the best team we’ve played,” stated Bryant’s senior guard Haley Montgomery who finished with 13 points including 9 in the fourth quarter when the Lady Hornets were able to extend a slim lead. “I’d probably say (it was the toughest tournament of the three). I don’t think we played as good as we have in the other tournaments but we played some good competition.”
“I think it’s really going to help us (in conference),” added senior Kenzee Calley who added 8 points and six rebounds. “Our confidence is going to be high.”
Shanika Johnson had the hot hand this night for the Lady Hornets. As has been standard procedure this season, she was the third different player to lead the team in scoring out of the three games played over the three-day tourney.
Defense was a key as usual. Alana Morris was assigned to slow down CAC star Gracie Frizzell, who’s getting Division I recruiting attention as a junior. Frizzell had scored at or over 20 points in the Lady Mustangs’ two previous tourney wins but she managed just 6 against Bryant. Her only two field goals came in the first quarter.
Bryant led 34-30 going into the fourth quarter and it remained tight. The lead was 43-39 with 4:48 left but that’s where the Lady Mustangs seemed to hit the wall. Bryant put together a 8-0 run and, after CAC’s Katie Pennington hit a 3 with 3:12 left, the Lady Mustangs didn’t score the rest of the game as Montgomery capped off the win with four free throws down the stretch.
Bryant was 10 of 11 at the line in the final period, 14 of 17 for the game.
“We were really fresh,” noted senior forward Brooke Parish. “Coach kept subbing us in and out. And we were just ready to play. We’ve played the other two days hard. We’re here anyway and we really want to go undefeated going into conference so it meant a lot.”
“I think it was our heart,” Calley added when asked what the winning edge was for the Lady Hornets. “We wanted it more.”
“We try to rotate every couple of minutes to make sure that we stay fresh,” Condley added. “They’re disgusted when they have to come out because, as a player, I know you want to stay in the game but, for us to be as successful as we are, when we’ve got not much difference between the seven girls that we’re playing, we’ve got to stay fresh. I feel like we were able to maintain playing at a high level from the start to the finish of the game. I don’t know if that was the difference but that was part of the game plan.”
The clinching run began with a layup by Johnson who got ahead of the CAC press. After a Lady Mustangs’ miss, Morris scored and was fouled on a drive into the lane. Her three-point play made it 48-39.
A turnover led to a layup by Montgomery off a nice feed from Morris then, after another turnover, Johnson went to the line and converted twice to make it a 12-point game.
It was a quality game from start to finish, fitting a championship. Through three quarters the Lady Hornets shot six free throws and the Lady Mustangs three so it moved swiftly.
CAC took a quick 5-0 lead and didn’t trail in the first quarter, though it ended 13-13 when Parish grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to beat the buzzer.
Abbi Stearns, who blocked three shots and pulled down 11 rebounds, knocked down an 8-footer to start the second quarter then Hannah Goshien drained a triple to put the Lady Hornets up 18-13.
Haley Hatcher, who led her team with 15 points, answered with a 3 but Morris fed Stearns for a layup and Montgomery earned a trip to the line after getting a nice pass from Goshien. Her free throws made it 22-16.
But CAC battled back to tie the game at 22, sparked by 6-foot-plus center Kyla Krueger in off the bench. Kristen Camper’s reverse layup knotted the game with 2:46 left in the half and it stayed that way until Montgomery made a steal and hit a running jumper in the lane to put the Lady Hornets up 24-22 at the break.
Haley Hatcher tied it by following her own miss to start the third quarter. Calley answered with two free throws but another layup by Hatcher and a free throw by Krueger had CAC up 27-26.
The lead seesawed before Johnson followed a basket by Morris with one of her four 3’s. That made it 34-30 going into the fourth quarter.
It went back and forth for the first half of the final period before Bryant’s decisive run.
LADY HORNETS 55, LADY MUSTANGS 43
Score by quarter
CAC 13 9 8 13 — 43
BRYANT 13 11 10 21 — 55
LADY HORNETS 55
Player fg-fta ft-fta reb fls pts
Montgomery 3-7 6-6 0-1 1 1 13
Goshien 2-7 0-0 0-0 0 0 6
Calley 2-6 4-4 0-6 6 1 8
Stearns 2-5 0-2 1-10 11 4 4
Morris 2-5 1-1 0-2 2 2 5
Parish 1-2 0-0 1-0 1 0 2
Johnson 5-12 3-4 0-1 1 3 17
Team 2-2 4
Totals 17-44 14-17 4-22 26 11 55
LADY MUSTANGS 43
Player fg-fta ft-fta reb fls pts
H.Hatcher 6-13 1-1 1-2 3 2 15
L.Hatcher 0-2 0-0 0-1 1 0 0
Pennington 2-4 0-0 0-2 2 2 6
Frizzell 2-7 2-2 1-12 13 3 6
Tankersley 3-10 1-2 2-4 6 3 7
Camper 2-4 0-1 1-1 2 3 4
Krueger 2-4 1-2 1-0 1 1 5
Team 1-2 3
Totals 17-44 5-8 7-24 31 14 43
Three-point field goals: Bryant 7-16 (Johnson 4-8, Goshien 2-5, Montgomery 1-2, Morris 0-1), CAC 4-14 (H.Hatcher 2-8, Pennington 2-3, L.Hatcher 0-2, Frizzell 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 11, CAC 17.