Lady Cougars Stumble Against EPC
It was a case of too much Synteria Ward for the Rector Lady Cougars as their season came to an end Thursday in the first round of the District 2A-3 Tournament at Lepanto.
The East Poinsett County standout scored all of her 17 points in the second half, including a blistering 15-point effort in the final quarter, to boost her team over the Lady Cougars, 53-49.
Ward and her sixth-seeded Lady Warriors went on to pull upsets over both Riverside and Marked Tree to reach the finals against Marmaduke on Monday night. They fell to the Lady Greyhounds, the top 2A team in the state.
EPC, Marmaduke, Marked Tree and BIC qualified for the Regional Tournament this week at Buffalo Island Central (Monette). The top four teams from the regional advance to next week's state Class 2A Tournament at Pangburn. The championship game is the following week at Hot Springs.
It was a tight game all the way between the Lady Cougars and the the Lady Warriors.
EPC posted leads of 10-8 and 18-17 after the first two quarters as neither team shot well from the field. Christian Hinson was the top scorer for EPC in the first half as she scored six points on good inside moves. Marla Crancer, Matison Dean and Tori Hill spread out the scoring for Rector.
It was a totally different story in the third quarter as both teams came out on fire, with EPC netting 17 points and Rector 16.
Colby Lynch scored all 13 of her points in the second half as she repeatedly drove the lane and either scored a basket or was fouled and went to the line. Her free throw with 3:19 left in the third quarter gave Rector a 31-25 lead, their biggest of the game.
After a three-pointer by EPC, Crancer connected on a basket to make it 33-28. But the Lady Warriors went into an effective press and ran off the final seven points of the quarter to take a 35-33 advantage moving into the final frame.
A basket by Markiya Ward to start the fourth period gave the hosts a 37-33 lead, but Rector then went on a run that included three baskets by Crancer and a three-pointer by Dean to put the Lady Cougars up 40-37 and it appeared they might advance. But Synteria Ward then took over, scoring all but one of her team's points the rest of the way.
Despite the run by the EPC senior, the Cougars hung tough and posted a 47-43 edge with 3:53 left on a three-pointer by Brittany Fair. Ward tied it on a couple of baskets, but Dean put Rector back up 49-47 on a breakaway basket with just over two minutes left.
Unfortunately, those were the final points by Rector as Ward posted a three-point play and then three more free throws to provide the final margin.
"I thought we played very well the second half," Rector coach Matt Dean said after the game. "We just couldn't stop Ward -- and it wasn't that we weren't playing pretty good defense, but what can you do when someone is making 15-foot floaters? She is an outstanding player."
He said both teams appeared off on their games in the first half after taking some extra days off from play because of the weather. "It took both teams a half to get back in the flow of things."
He said Crancer fouling out late in the game was a factor for his team as they were "kind of out of sync" in their efforts to tie it at the end.
Lynch led the way in scoring with 13 and Dean added 12. Also scoring for Rector were Crancer 8, Hill 7, Fair 7 and Sophi Adams 2. In addition to Synteria Ward's 17, Markiya Ward had 12.
EPC had a huge advantage in shots from the free throw line, with 25 to only 12 for Rector. The Lady Warriors hit only 10 of the shots, while the Lady Cougars had a more respectable percentage with eight.
Both teams made five three-pointers.
Coach Dean was pleased with his team's 13-14 record considering the number of players lost off last year's NEA Championship team.
"I was real pleased...we were in every game except the ones against Marmaduke, Dyer County and Pocahontas. We had leads in four or five games that we could have won."
The Lady Cougars lose two seniors -- Crancer and Fair.
"Marla had an excellent year on the floor and an even better year as a leader," the coach said. "She kept us in a lot of games."
He said the team started playing better after the return of Fair from injury. "I wish she could have been healthy and we had her for a whole year," he said.
"Both our seniors had good careers.
"We've got a decent group coming back next year," Dean said. He said Dominique Coln and Sophi Adams will be counted upon to step up with more playing time next year.