March 9, 2002- Pine Bluff.A simple date and destination that have been emblazoned on the practice shorts of the Highland Lady Rebels since before the beginning of the season.A simple date and destination that could serve as a sweet reward for all the bumps and bruises, all the hard work and sweat, all the highs and lows a team experiences as it journeys through a year of tough games and even tougher practices.On the second weekend in March, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a crowd of 3,934 watched an unbelievable finish as Kristin Byler capped off an unbelievable year for the Lady Rebels with a shot at the buzzer to win the Class AAA State Championship 55-53 over the Ozark Lady Hillbillies.This post-season has been one of redemption for Highland.The Lady Rebels may have stumbled with tournament titles in the regular season, but life in March has seen no such difficulties.The Lady Rebels' major roadblocks to this success included two familiar foes from last years' post-season; Rivercrest and Ozark.First Highland took care of the Rivercrest Lady Colts with an overtime win in the state semi-finals in Beebe.The Lady Colts had knocked Highland out of the regional tournament last year.Next on the Lady Rebels' payback list: the Ozark Lady Hillbillies who beat Highland in the opening round of the state tournament last year, en route to winning their second straight Class AAA title in a row, including their third in four years.The Lady Hillbillies were ranked number one in the state and featured an imposing inside presence with University of Arkansas signee Sarah Pfeifer."Last year we played Ozark and competed for a half. Ozark is an elite program," said Lady Rebel Head Coach Harlan Davis. "Our girls rededicated themselves this year and worked and practiced hard to get stronger."The Lady Rebels displayed this strength from the opening tip as senior Myranda Evans used a layup to get Highland on the board.Ozark got going as Sarah Pfeifer tossed in a basket and sank a free throw for a 6-3 Ozark lead at the 4:49 mark of the first.The Lady Rebels answered with another member of their post-patrol, senior Ginger Murphy.Murphy canned a pair of spinning jumpers in the lane to grab the lead back at 9-8.This was the the second of only four times Highland led in the contest.Pfeifer immediately converted her second traditional 3-point play of the period at the 1:39 mark to slide the advantage back to Ozark.Senior Leah Woolsey drained a trey from the corner to put Ozark up 3, 14-11 at the end of one.Woolsey tacked on a deuce to this lead to start the second period with a shot off the glass.The Lady Hillbillies continued to add to their advantage with back-to-back buckets in the lane by Pfeifer, for their biggest lead of the game, 20-12, at the 5:08 point.A pair of sophomores stepped up for Highland to help quiet the Ozark attack.Andrea Sublett hit the Lady Rebels' first trey of the night on a pullup shot at the 3:48 mark.Next trip down the floor for the Lady Rebels, Allyson Sample pulled off the same trick with a 3-ball of her own.Sublett rounded out the long distance barrage with her second shot from beyond the arc with 1:55 left in the period, and Highland trailing 23-22.A pair of free throws from Pfeifer was answered with a layup from Ginger Murphy to end the half with the score tied at 24-all.The first part of the third period turned in a battle of the "33's".Pfeifer for Ozark and Murphy for Highland.The first 7 points in the frame for Ozark came courtesy of the post-play of Pfeifer.In return, Murphy logged the first 6 points for the Lady Rebels to keep Highland in within 1, at 31-30.In the blink of an eye, Ozark peeled off 7 unanswered points to build the lead back to 8 at 38-30.Not to be outdone, Highland stepped on the gas and shot out a 6-0 run of their own with a couple of steals to narrow the gap to a 38-36 Ozark lead.Pfiefer closed out the period with a pair of inside buckets, and a 42-36 Lady Hillbilly advantage after three.The Lady Rebels opened strong in the last frame by forcing a pair of Ozark turnovers from their 1-3-1 zone defense.Murphy took one of these Ozark miscues for a length-of-court layup.Andrea Sublett picked off an Ozark pass and fed Myranda Evans for a layup with Highland behind 42-40."Ozark's turnovers really helped us in the fourth. I think they had four or five," said Coach Davis.The gap narrowed by 1, at 44-43 as Allyson Sample busted her second trey of the game at the 5:45 mark.The next trip down for Ozark resulted in a familiar outcome, a hoop and one free throw from Sarah Pfiefer.Highland grabbed their third lead of the evening, 49-47, on an inside hoop from Evans and a downtown rainbow from Sublett at the 4:08 point.Showing why they were two-time defending state champions, Ozark used a 6-0 spurt to put the advantage back in their favor, 53-49, with 2:22 left.A stickback by Myranda Evans pulled Highland within 2, 53-51.With 1:37 left, Pfiefer was fouled in the act of shooting and went to the charity stripe with a chance to pad the Ozark lead.Pfiefer, 8-for-10 at the line up to this point in the game, missed both free throw attempts.Highland took advantage of this gift by knotting the score at 53-all on a jumper from Ginger Murphy with 1:15 left.The last Ozark turnover of the evening proved to be huge.With 59 ticks showing on the clock, Pfiefer was called for a charging foul as she plowed over Allyson Sample on the way to the basket."Sample plays the back of our 1-3-1 defense because she's so athletic and a hard worker. She's taken more charges than anyone for us," said Coach Davis.With less than a minute remaining in the game, a season's worth of countless hours of preparation came down to a single offensive possession.The Lady Rebels worked the ball around looking for a last shot.Thanks to aggressive pressure, Ozark knocked the ball loose around half-court. Andrea Sublett flipped it to Allyson Sample, who picked it up and tossed it to Myranda Evans who was 12 feet from the hoop with 5 seconds left.Unsure of how much time was on the clock, Evans flung a running jumper at the hoop.The ball bounced hard off the backboard into the hands of senior Kristin Byler who stuck the rebound in at the buzzer for only her second basket of the night.But what a hoop it was, giving the Highland Lady Rebels the 2002 Class AAA State Championship with the 55-53 victory.March 9, 2002- Pine Bluff.The practice shorts of the Lady Rebels said it all with the date of the state tournament for all to see.This marks the Lady Rebels' first state crown since 1973."The shot on the last play was designed to go to Ginger with about 12 seconds left on the clock. We weren't trying to do anything different than we'd done all game. We wanted Ginger in the middle but Ozark got their hands on it and we had a scramble. But Ginger battled hard for the ball," commented Coach Davis.Sarah Pfeifer led the Lady Hillbillies with a game high 33."I thought we paid attention to Pfeifer. We double-teamed her and extended our defense," said Coach Davis."We kind of let her come to us in the second half.Ginger Murphy, named State Tournament MVP, and Allyson Sample led the Lady Rebels with 16 points apiece.Andrea Sublett (10 points), and Myranda Evans (8 points) were named to the All-Tournament team. Kristin Byler added 4 pointsfor Highland, none any bigger than the last 2 of her career."I kind of threw the ball up. I really didn't know how much time was left on the clock," said Byler of her championship winning shot.Davis said, "Last thing this morning at shoot-around, we lined up and practiced a last-second half-court shot drill. It was a pretty bizzare ending." Commenting on his group of state champions, Davis said, "In 17 years of coaching I have never seen a group like this. They don't bicker or gripe or even care who gets the glory."And this time there is plenty of glory for all to share.