Lady Cougars Are NEA Champions

Thursday, January 9, 2014
Members of the 2013 NEA Invitational Tournament Girls' Division I champion Rector Lady Cougars are, from left: Front--Colby Lynch, Tori Hill, Kristen Smart and Bailey Haney. Nack--Coach Matt Dean, Brittany Fair, Bekah Scott, Kendal Gunn, Anna Blackshare, Harmony Brown, Lenae Haley, Cheyenne Ellis, Marla Crancer and Vanessa Jones. (Times-Democrat photo/Anthony Cossey)

The Rector Lady Cougars celebrated the end of 2013 with a bang, winning the Girls' Division I championship in the 2013 NEA Invitational Tournament Tuesday, Dec. 31 at the ASU Convocation Center in Jonesboro. Rector met 2A-3 rival Marked Tree in the championship game, marking the third straight year the two teams met in the tourney final. RHS won the game, 57-56, in a hard-fought contest between two of the top teams in Class 2A.

The Lady Cougars trailed by one, 53-52, with just under a minute left in the contest. A timely three-pointer by Bailey Haney and a free throw each by Bekah Scott and Kendal Gunn perfectly meshed with tenacious defense to boost Rector to the victory. Marked Tree sank a three-pointer at the final buzzer to cut the Rector advantage to a single point, setting the final at 57-56.

"That's a big win," RHS coach Matt Dean said following his team's victory. "Marked Tree is a tough team and if you get a win over them, you had to work for it. I'm proud of our team and how we played throughout the tournament. It's a great way to start the new year."

The Lady Cougars offset Marked Tree's size advantage with sheer hustle. Rector entered the contest well aware of Marked Tree's two-pronged attack, the all-around skilled guard Jay Perry and powerful post presence of Lexi Perry, who at around 6'3" and possessing a large frame is an all but immovable object in the paint. However, the Lady Cougars countered by striking as a unit, with each player stepping on the court able to contribute in multiple ways.

"We fought for every loose ball and every rebound," Dean said. "We couldn't match her (Lexi Perry) size, but I thought we hustled and just played tough."

The Lady Cougars opened the game with a 13-9 lead through the first frame. Kristen Smart made a huge impact in the first quarter, burying three treys to provide Rector with an outside scoring punch. Anna Blackshare also performed well in the first quarter, scoring on a drive to the hoop and adding two free throws.

Marked Tree opened the second frame with 6-0 run over the first two minutes to take a 15-13 advantage. The teams traded buckets for the remainder of the period, with the score being tied at 26-26 as the first half came to a close.

Rector outpaced the Lady Indians 12-5 through the first five minutes of the third stanza to take a 38-31 advantage. Gunn went coast-to-coast in transition before adding a trey and a pull-up jumper during the key run. Blackshare fearlessly weaved through the paint for a layup and added a three-pointer, as well during the series. Haney and Blackshare hit one of two at the line each to wrap up the scoring for the frame, which saw Rector in front 40-35 heading into the fourth quarter.

Blackshare and Gunn led the Lady Cougar offense with 21 and 20 points, respectively, while Smart tallied 11 points in the Rector victory. Haney, four points, and Scott, one, rounded out the RHS scoring.

Jay Perry, 22 points, and Lexi Perry, 20, led Marked Tree on the evening.

The championship is the second time Rector has won the tournament in the past three years, having defeated Marked Tree in the 2011 final.

"I thought we had a very good tournament," Dean said. "The kids played hard and really enjoyed being there. We had great fans at each of our games, and that support really came through for us. All in all, it was a good tournament."

Blackshare, Smart and Gunn were announced as All-NEA Tournament selections in girls' division I, as were Marked Tree's Jay and Lexi Perry. Reed Weber was the lone Cougar selected All-NEA Tournament in boys' division I.

BIC and Brookland Tournament

The Lady Cougars improved to 20-4 overall and 6-2 in 2A-3 conference action with a huge 60-26 win over the visiting Lady Mustangs of Buffalo Island Central Monday night in Rector.

The Lady Cougars took the Lady Mustangs, and BIC head coach Stan Fowler, effectively out of the game in the second frame. Defensive pressure hindered the Lady Mustang guards when attempting to run the offense, while Fowler was called for a technical foul when his frustration appeared to boil over during the critical stretch. RHS led 21-15 going into the second quarter, but the Lady Cougars allowed just four points in the second frame and only an additional seven points after intermission. RHS led 33-19 at halftime and 53-26 going into the final quarter.

On offense, the Lady Cougars' lethal combo of timely three-point shooting and balanced scoring proved too much for the conference rival. Kristen Smart connected on three triples on the night while Kendal Gunn, two, and Bekah Scott and Anna Blackshare, one each, also buried three-pointers in the win.

Gunn led all scorers with 18 points on the night. Blackshare netted 10 points in the win. Also scoring for Rector were Smart 9, Scott 8, Marla Crancer 6, Bailey Haney 4, Tori Hill 3 and Harmony Brown 2.

The Junior Lady Cougars fell to BIC in the evening's first game, 38-12.

Hailey Hilfiker led Rector with six points. Gabby Clark, four points, and Sophi Adams, two, rounded out the Junior Lady Cougar scoring.

The Lady Cougars are set to host Marked Tree beginning at 6 p.m. January 13. Augusta is slated to visit Rector at 4 p.m. Jan. 17 in an evening of games which will also feature the boys' teams.

Brookland Tourney

The Lady Cougars reached the finals in tournament action at Brookland this past Saturday, but fell to the hosting Brookland Lady Bearcats in what was Rector's fourth game in five days, 53-33.

The Lady Cougars trailed throughout the contest, 23-6; 32-12 and 43-25.

Gunn paced Rector with 10 points in the game. Also scoring for the Lady Cougars were Blackshare 7, Haney 6, Crancer 5, Smart 2, Brittany Fair 2 and Hill 1.

Bailey Lovrien paced Brookland with 11 points.

Rector topped a tough Rivercrest Lady Colt squad, 64-56, on Jan. 3 behind a superstar outing by Gunn. Gunn notched 37 points as Rector rolled through the semifinals.

The Lady Cougar trailed 27-25 at intermission and led by a single point, 39-38, heading into the final stanza.

Gunn had a huge day at the charity stripe, converting on 12 of 14 free throw attempts. Her efforts to get to the basket not only resulted in her many trips to the line, but also saddled the Lady Colts with costly team fouls.

Blackshare added 13 points for the Lady Cougars. Also scoring for Rector were Vanessa Jones 6, Smart 3, Crancer 3 and Haney 2.

Taylor Harris led Rivercrest with 24 points in the loss.

Rector first met South Pemiscott in the opening round of the tourney on Jan. 2, in which the Lady Cougars posted a 59-47 win.

RHS led after each frame: 12-10; 31-20 and 50-31.

Three Lady Cougars scored in double digits, with Blackshare netting 13, Gunn getting 12 and Scott nabbing 10 points. Also scoring for RHS were Smart 5, Haney 4, Jones 4, Hill 3, Cheyenne Ellis 2, Lenae Haley 2, Fair 2 and Colby Lynch 2.

Carrie Shepherd led South Pemiscott with 30 points in the loss.

The Lady Cougars also took part in a junior varsity game Jan. 3 at Brookland, falling to Hughes, 43-33.

Jones paced Rector with 10 points in the contest. Also scoring for RHS were Ellis 8, Haley 6, Brown 4, Hill 2, Fair 2 and Lynch 1.

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