Photos by Kevin Nagle
PEARCY — It may not feel like it right now but if the Bryant Hornets freshman team winds up bidding for a Central Arkansas Junior High Conference championship or reaches the finals in the league’s post-season tournament, don’t be surprised.
Yes, they are suffering through some growing pains right now including a frustrating 45-40 loss to the Lake Hamilton Wolves on Monday night that made them 0-5. But, as has been mentioned before, the Hornets’ freshman team faces a challenge unlike any other team in the league. While their opponents are made up of players that have been playing with each other for the most part since seventh grade, the Bryant frosh are learning to be a team after actually being rivals for the last two years.
Chemistry, timing, figuring out roles — it affects a lot of things.
That’s why Bryant freshman teams often come farther, make greater strides, improve more between the start of a season and the end than any other in the league.
It is often frustrating early in the season but patience usually pays because, fortunately, all the really important games come at the end of the season. In order to have a post-season tournament, the teams in the CAJHC play through the conference once before, after the first of the year, playing a second time with the league standings on the line.
At Lake Hamilton, this time — the two teams will play their conference game against each other at Bryant on Jan. 26 — the Hornets led almost the entire first half but found themselves trailing 37-30 with 4:35 left in the game.
After a flurry of turnovers by both teams, Brandon Hill drilled a 3-pointer for the Hornets with 3:24 to go and, after Lake Hamilton missed twice, Sam Chumley drained a triple to cut the lead to 37-36.
Another Wolves miss forced a timeout, which didn’t slow the Hornets down immediately. They got the ball inside to Brooks Ellis who was fouled and hit a free throw to tie the game with 2:13 to go.
But, after that, Bryant didn’t score again until the final seconds of the game as Lake Hamilton put together a game-winning 8-0 surge.
“Very frustrating,” acknowledged Hornets coach Tyler Posey. “There’s not much more that you can say but frustrating.”
Asked what he told his team afterwards, the coach related, “Just stay with it. We’re 0-5 already but I told them I still think we have a really good group. I believe that. Just keep working in practice — you can see the improvement from game one to two, two to three, three to four, four to five. We’ve not far off. We’ve just got to stay with it and get there. And I think we will.”
In Lake Hamilton, the Hornets faced a team that zoned up defensively but was very aggressively trapping most of the time. Offensively, they were aggressive as well, attacking the basket off of drives or using screens inside to free up a couple of posts with impressive post-up abilities. That contributed to the fact that the Wolves shot 19 free throws in the game compared to seven by Bryant.
The game was back-and-forth early, tied at 2 and 4. Lake Hamilton took a 6-4 lead then Tristan Calhoun drilled a 3 to put the Hornets ahead. The Wolves regained the advantage but a three-point play off a baseline drive by JonLuke Sprout gave Bryant a 10-8 lead and the upper hand.
Lake Hamilton’s last lead of the first half was 11-10. Chumley canned a trey, Brandon Shirlee made a steal and Luke Curtis hit the offensive glass for a bucket to give Bryant a 15-11 edge going into the second quarter.
The Wolves scored the first bucket of the period but Curtis answered. That started a trend as the Hornets answered every Lake Hamilton run at the lead. The margin was 17-16 and Hill scored off an offensive rebound. It was 19-18 and he drove for a basket, using a nice spin move.
When it was 21-19, Sprout drove for another basket inside. When it was 23-21, he answered with a pair of free throws.
Sprout wound up leading the Hornets with 11 points, 9 in the first half. Chumley scored 9, Calhoun 8, Hill 7, Curtis 4 and Ellis 1.
At the half, the Hornets held a 25-23 advantage.
But the basket that ended the first half for the Wolves wound up being the start of a 9-0 run. Lake Hamilton opened the second half with a defensive surge, forcing turnovers and rushed shots, building the lead to 30-25 before Calhoun broke the ice with just 1:56 left in the third quarter, just in time to keep the Hornets in the game. They were down just 34-30 going into the fourth quarter. The Wolves scored the first 3 points of the final period, setting up the concluding scenario.
“Offensively, we got a little stagnant,” Posey said. “We kept moving the ball from guard to guard and didn’t get it down from guard to forward. We didn’t get our inside touches. I really feel like that hurt us down the stretch. That and the defense getting screened off, not getting over the top of the screens, really, really hurt us.”
The Wolves out-rebounded the Hornets 21-19 and forced 16 turnovers while committing just 10.
Lessons learned, the Hornets will try to continue their improvement and get that coveted first win on Thursday when they host a tough North Little Rock team.