Lady Cougars Edged in NEA Finals
For the second consecutive year, the Rector Lady Cougars and the Marked Tree Lady Indians met in the finals of the NEA Tournament's Girls Division I championship game at the ASU Convocation Center in Jonesboro. While Rector came out on top a year ago, Monday night's contest would belong to the Lady Indians, 58-44.
The New Year's Eve matchup was a tale of two halves. The teams battled at a neck-and-neck rate throughout the first two frames, with Marked Tree holding 13-11 and 30-29 advantages, respectively, in the initial periods.
Rector was able to contend with their conference foe on the strength of solid rebounding and consistent shooting in the opening. While the Lady Indians had a size advantage, with 6'1" Lexi Perry easily being the largest player on the court, The Lady Cougars were faster and more aggressive in hitting the glass in the first and second frames.
"That was a key for us," RHS coach Matt Dean said. "We went after the rebounds and were getting the loose balls in the first half. We gave ourselves more opportunities and slowed down their transition."
The Lady Cougars led by as many as six points, 29-23, in the second frame. Kendall Gunn buried three triples in a row for RHS in the frame, pushing the lead to its largest with 2:43 remaining until intermission.
Marked Tree bounced back, however, scoring the final seven points of the half to go into halftime with a one point advantage, 30-29.
When the teams changed baskets for the start of the second half, so too changed the Lady Cougars' fortunes. Shots which fell in the first drew hard iron, bouncing back. Marked Tree had the luck of the bounce in the latter frames, with rebound tips and 50/50 balls more often than not going to the Lady Indians.
"We went cold," Dean said. "I felt like we kept playing hard like we did in the first half, but the shots weren't falling and those bounces weren't going our way. Marked tree's a good team and if they get an advantage, it's hard to come back on them."
The Lady Indians continued their seven point run to close out the first half with a six point run to open the third frame. Marked Tree was able to build up its lead while Rector was unable to connect on a series of layups and drives. Rebounds which had previously gone to the Lady Cougars were being collected by MTHS, notably Lexi Perry.
"We didn't get the second chance points we did in the first half," Dean said. "The effort was there, but their big girl seemed to be in the right position for every rebound in the second half."
Gunn led the Lady Cougars with a game-high 22 points on the night. The junior also snagged nine rebounds. Kristen Smart finished with a double-double for Rector, scoring 14 points and nabbing 11 rebounds. Also scoring for RHS were Bekah Scott 4, Bailey Haney 3 and Brittany Fair 1.
Jay Perry led MTHS with 18 points. Poohnu Perry finished 1ith 14 points. Lexi Perry and Caflora Hillis added 10 points each.
Following the contest, the Lady Cougars received the NEA Dvision I runners-up trophy. RHS had three girls named to the All-NEA Team, with Smart, Haney and Gunn receiving those honors.
Rector brought out the long range artillery, draining 11 three pointers on the afternoon, as the Lady Cougars blasted Maynard 75-61 in NEA Tournament semifinal action Saturday at the Convocation Center on the campus of Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.
Rector jumped to an early 22-15 first quarter lead, and took a 36-23 advantage into the dressing room at intermission. The Lady Cougars stretched their margin to 58-42 entering the fourth period. Rector led by as many as 20 points in the final frame before settling on the 14 point victory.
Gunn poured in a game high 23 points to lead Rector while Smart added 14 more. Scott and Cheyenne Ellis pumped in nine points apiece. Also scoring for Rector were Fair 7, Haney 5, Lenae Haley 4 and Kaitlyn Essman 4.
Micaela West led the Lady Tigers with 19 points.
The Lady Cougars played the NEA Tournament without starting point guard Anna Blackshare, who is currently sidelined with a knee injury. Blackshare is expected to return Jan. 7.
"It hurts not having Anna in the lineup, but the other girls have really stepped it up and have played extremely well in her absence," Dean said.
"This is a big win for us, getting to the NEA Championship game for the second year in a row," said Dean. "Today's game was totally opposite of Friday's game, where we couldn't throw one in the ocean. Today it seemed like we couldn't miss. We shot the ball a lot better today, a lot better. Marked Tree will be a tough opponent for us in the finals. They have excellent guards and the big kid in the middle. It will take a tremendous effort from us to have a chance to win. It seems like every time we have played them in the last couple of years it has come down to the last two or three minutes of the game. We are going to come and play hard and hope the breaks go our way," concluded Dean.
The Lady Cougars survived the holiday hangover, defeating Augusta in the quarterfinals Dec. 28, 40-38. The game was Rector's first in 11 days, with winter conditions adding two more days to the tally as the tourney was forced to reschedule due to the Christmas evening snow and ice.
It wasn't our best game, that's for sure,"" Dean said. ""We did just enough to win. It was a win, though, and we'll take it.""
Augusta, who came into the game with only six girls dressed out, got out to a 12-4 first quarter advantage. Smart hit a three-pointer and Fair sank a free throw to sun up the Lady Cougars' first frame scoring.
We just came out flat,"" Dean said.
Rector began to fight back in the second frame. While turnovers continued to hurt the Lady Cougars, the energy level picked up on both sides. RHS trailed 22-16 at intermission and 32-27 going into the fourth.
Haney spurred the Lady Cougars in the final frame. Haney started the RHS scoring in the fourth with a three-pointer from up top with just under five minutes left to play, cutting the Augusta advantage to five, 35-30. Rebekah Scott picked off a pass and drew a foul on her way to the hoop, sinking one of two from the stripe to cut the Lady Red Devil lead to four, 35-31, with 3:26 remaining.
Augusta came up empty on two attempts at the stripe with 4:20 remaining, further opening the door for the Lady Cougars.
Haney buried another triple from the top with 3:26 left and added a pair of free throws at the 3:00 mark, pushing Rector ahead 36-35.
The teams traded turnovers with Rector coming out on top of the exchange on a steal by Smart with just over 2:00 left in the game. Smart was sent to the line at 1:45 where she made both free throws to extend the RHS advantage to three points, 38-35. Haney stole the ball back for Rector with 1:42 remaining and was sent to the line with 1:24 to play. She missed the front end of a one-in-one, but Augusta put up a wild three-point attempt, giving the ball back to the Lady Cougars. Rector called timeout with 42 seconds left and burned the clock down to 12 seconds before Kendal Gunn was sent to the line for a one-in-one. Gunn buried both freebies as RHS moved ahead 40-35. Augusta managed a consolation three-pointer at the buzzer, as Rector took the contest, 40-38.
Haney had a nice game for the Lady Cougars, leading all scorers with 14 points.
She came through for us, especially in the fourth quarter,"" Dean said. ""If she doesn't step up like she did there, we probably don't win the game.""
Smart also scored in double figures, netting 10 points in the victory. Also scoring for Rector were Scott 8, Gunn 5 and Fair 3.
Rector (13-9) is slated to host Marked Tree beginning at 6 p.m. Jan. 7. The girls are scheduled to meet with the Lady Red Devils again, beginning at 6 p.m. Jan. 11 at Augusta.