Photos by Kevin Nagle
NORTH LITTLE ROCK — With 1:40 left in the third quarter at Lakewood Junior High, the Bryant Blue Hornets eighth grade team of Bethel Middle School trailed the Ridge Road Cats of North Little Rock by 9 points, 28-19. Though they’d trailed ever since it was 1-0, the Hornets just wouldn’t go away. Every time the Cats looked like they might pull away, Bethel would rally.
And such was the case again in the second half. Before the third quarter was over, Tyler O’Neal had trimmed a free throw off the 9-point margin. To start the fourth quarter, Josh Robertson made a steal that led to a trip to the line for Henry Terry. Though Terry couldn’t get either of his shots to fall, Randy Thomas rebounded, scored and was fouled. He converted a free throw for the three-point play and the lead was down to 5.
After a Ridge Road turnover Robertson hit a driving jumper and the Hornets were within 28-25.
Both teams missed opportunities after that for over a minute before Ridge Road’s Antonio Davis scored as he was fouled. His free throw wouldn’t go so, at the other end, when Thomas grabbed another of his 15 rebounds and stuck it back in, making it 30-27 with 3:21 left.
But that’s as close as the Hornets would get. The Cats spread the floor on offense, eventually opening up lanes for Otis Jordan and Zadrien Smallwood to drive for baskets in the final two minutes. Thomas would hit a free throw with :48.2 to go and Alex Blair made a steal but the Hornets were unable to cash in as Ridge Road held on for a 34-28 win.
Jordan led all scorers with 10 points. For Bryant, Thomas had 8, Robertson 6 and Chris Fuller 5. Blair scored 4, O’Neal 3 and Will McEntire 2.
Free throw shooting was a struggle for both teams. Ridge Road went 3 of 15 from the line. Bryant Blue did a good job of attacking the aggressive Cats’ defense and got to the line 20 times but converted just seven.
Bethel out-rebounded Ridge Road 35-28 but of the Cats’ 28, 15 came at the offensive end.
The Hornets’ lone lead was 1-0 when O’Neal hit a free throw. Ridge Road took a 4-1 lead then Fuller hit a layup to cut the margin to 1.
But the Cats then went on an 8-0 run to make it 12-3 and, after Blair scored off a teammate’s miss, Mack Evans drained a 3 for Ridge Road, which produced the largest lead at 15-5.
Fuller’s 3-pointer got the Hornets going again. O’Neal was fouled on a 3-point try but was only able to convert one of the three from the stripe.
In turn, Ridge Road missed four free throws before Jordan scored. Fuller answered with a 12-foot jumper to make it 17-11 at the half.
Free throws by Thomas to open the second half cut the lead to 4 but Zaire Holcombs knocked down a 3 for the Cats. Lamonte Boyd added a basket to stretch the lead to 22-13 and Ridge Road had a chance to add on but Robertson made a steal and scored. He added another layup with 3:14 left in the quarter to make it 22-17.
But on 3’s by Jayden Smith and Jordan, the Cats pushed it back to 9 before the Hornets put together their last rally.
The Hornets return to action on Thursday, Feb. 5, at home against Bryant White.