Lady Cougars Edged from Tourney by Salem
A tremendous season for the Rector Lady Cougars came to a tough end Thursday at the 2A North Regional Basketball Tournament at Pangburn. Salem's Brooke York hit two free throws with 9.5 seconds left to give the Lady Greyhounds a 63-62 win and a spot in the Class 2A State Tournament this week at Hampton.
Rector ended the season with a 28-7 mark.
The Lady Cougars fell to defeat despite an unbelievable performance by senior Kendall Gunn. She scored 41 points in the game, including 18 during her team's frantic fourth-quarter comeback.
"We think that's a school record for scoring," coach Matt Dean said. "It was just a phenomenal performance by her. In the fourth quarter, she just put us on her back and said go with me."
Rector had fallen behind 50-37 late in the third quarter before Gunn brought the margin to 10 on a three-point play with 36.8 seconds in the frame.
She then exploded for 11 points in less than three minutes to start the fourth quarter as the Lady Cougars worked to a 51-51 tie.
Salem then hit four of six free throws to move back ahead by four. Cheyenne Ellis countered with a basket for Rector before Salem hit two more free shots.
A basket by Gunn and another by Bekah Scott tied the game at 57-57 with 2:51 showing.
Salem netted a pair of field goals before a three-point play by Gunn made it 61-60 with 1:10 left. Salem then gave the Lady Cougars a big opportunity by missing four straight free throws inside the one-minute mark.
Gunn took advantage to give Rector its first lead in the second half, 62-61, on a basket with 16.9 seconds showing.
Salem called a timeout before taking the ball out on the Rector end. York drove down the sideline in front of the Rector bench and then picked up her dribble. Bailey Haney reached out to tie up the ball, but she was called for her fifth foul with 9.5 seconds left.
"It was a close call," Dean said. "I thought it was a jump ball, but that's why you have officials. He thought it was a foul...I hate to see a game in the regional tournament end on free throws."
York made the first and Dean called a timeout. She then hit the second to give Salem the lead.
Gunn took the inbounds pass and drove the length of the floor. She got off a good shot in the lane at the buzzer, but it wouldn't go and the Lady Cougars' great season came to an end.
It was a game of runs for both teams. Salem scored the first seven points of the game, but Rector battled back and eventually took the lead at the end of the first quarter, 17-16, on a three-pointer by Gunn.
The Lady Cougars appeared to be taking control of the game in the second quarter, moving to a 27-18 lead on a pair of free throws by Gunn with 4:47 left in the half.
Salem then went on a run of 10 straight points to take the lead, seven of the points coming from the charity stripe.
"All the free throws they shot hurt us more than anything," Dean said of the game. Salem went 22 of 37 from the line, while the Lady Cougars were 10-16.
Doing most of the damage was senior post Sidney Mitchum, who finished with 26 points. Joining her in double figures was Hailey Godfrey with 19.
The two teams battled to a 32-32 tie at halftime as Kristin Smart hit a pair of free throws for Rector at the 3.3 second mark.
Salem came out strong in the second half, building up the 13-point lead, before the dramatic fourth-quarter heroics by Gunn.
In addition to Gunn's 41, Rector scoring was Smart 8, Brittany Fair 6, Ellis 3, Scott 2 and Haney 2.
Rector had 24 fouls to 15 for Salem.
"We played about as hard as we could play," Dean said of his team. He noted the Cougars hit only six of 35 three-point shots in the game. "The fact that we scored 62 points while shooting like that shows that this bunch of girls wanted it bad.
"We could have laid down and not given ourselves a chance, but we fought back and had an opportunity to win it."
Dean thinks the 28 wins may be as many as any team in the history of the school. "It was a great year," he said. "You can't look at this one loss and have it take away from what they accomplished. The kids really gave everything they had all year."
Rector was ranked as high as second in the state in Class 2A before a season-ending injury to starting point guard Anna Blackshare in the game at EPC.
The Cougars were 26-4 before she was injured and finished the year going 2-3.
"Anna was a great defender, great passer and was our second leading scorer," the coach said. "She was our leader and was still our leader at the end...I just wish it had been on the floor instead of on the bench.
"From the NEA right up to her injury we were playing some outstanding basketball. It's just a shame we couldn't see how the season played out with her on the floor."
The quality of the team is seen in the fact that one of the losses was to Brookland, which is in the Class 4A state tournament. The Lady Cougars defeated Class 1A regional champion Viola early in the year. They topped Class 3A regional champion Rivercrest, along with a strong South Pemiscot (Mo.) team, in the Brookland Tournament. The Lady Cougars also split with regional champion Marmaduke (the loss coming after Blackshare was hurt). Two of their losses were to state qualifier Marked Tree, the team they defeated in the finals of the NEA Tournament.
"This group of seniors won two of three NEA tournaments and were runner-up the other year," coach Dean said. "They won 69 games in three years. They have a lot to be proud of."
Seniors on the team were Kristin Smart, Anna Blackshare, Bekah Scott, Kendall Gunn, Bailey Haney, Lenae Hailey, Cheyenne Ellis and Vanessa Jones.