The juggernaut that is Salem Lady Greyhound basketball just keeps rolling along.
Heading into the finals of the Class AA Region 3 Tournament at the Cougars' Den in Brockwell Feb. 28, the Lady Hounds were on a major roll at the right time of the year, having won 12 straight, including 15 out of their last 16 games.
Make that lucky number 13 as Salem knocked off the Newark Lady Roos 52-45.
Salem's last loss came Jan. 20 in a 42-40 defeat to Calico Rock.
Salem (21-7) advances to this week's Class AA State Tournament at Centerpoint High School in Amity.
Despite posting just one field goal the last 9:30 of the game, and making just six-of-12 from the charity stripe inside the last 1:50 of the contest, the Lady Hounds managed to knock off Newark, the second ranked team in Class AA, by seven points.
Working the low blocks with Regional MVP Heather Bales in the first period, the Lady Greyhounds held a 12-11 lead after one, with Bales tossing in six of her game-high 21 in the frame.
"We knew they were a little weak in the post, and Heather knew she'd have to score for us to be successful, and she did," said Lady Greyhound Coach Eric Chambers. "It was kind of tough getting her the ball at first because of the pressure they (Newark) put on your guards, but fortunately for us, we've got other scoring options we can go to if we need."
As important as Bales was on the offensive end for Salem, the Lady Hounds' defense was equally responsible for the victory, as Salem held the Lady Roos' explosive Courtney Magness to just seven points on the night, with Samantha Smith and Hannah Bray taking turns harassing Magness.
"Samantha and Hannah are excellent at denying the ball," Chambers said. "Newark likes to run her off a bunch of screens, and with a team effort on defense, we were ready for that."
With Bales controlling the lane, All-Regional performer Stephanie Barker (12 points) lit up the outside, draining three of her four treys on the night in the first half.
With the game knotted at 26-all late in the second period, Brittney Bales (nine points) sank a pair of free throws before Barker busted a 3-ball at the buzzer to stake Salem to a 31-26 halftime advantage.
Jumping out to a 9-2 run to open the third, Salem knocked Newark back on their heels, leading 40-28 at the 2:11 mark of the frame.
Ashley Smith (five points), a member of the All-Regional Team, ended the Lady Greyhound sprint-out with a hoop, followed by a triple from Brittney Bales at the 1:37 mark of the third.
This turned out to be Salem's next to last field goal of the night, but the Lady Greyhounds took a 43-34 lead into the final period.
Newark battered away at Salem's lead, using an 8-zip run the last of the third and first part of the fourth period, to pull within five, at 43-38.
Heather Bales dropped in a layup for Salem at the 6:18 mark to break the Lady Roo run, before free throws became the order of business for the Lady Greyhounds.
Although they just hit 50 percent from the charity stripe late in the game, Salem kept Newark from getting many good looks at the basket during the stretch run, with the Lady Hounds holding on for the regional crown.
"We've made a renewed commitment to defense since the beginning of the season," said Chambers. "I told the kids if we play good team defense and can out-rebound the other team, we've got an excellent chance to win, and they believe in this."
Tori Watkins finished with five points for Salem.
In semi-final action, the Lady Hounds knocked off Sloan-Hendrix 40-35 behind 14 points from Ashley Smith.
Salem broke open an 18-all halftime tie, grabbing a 29-26 lead after the third period, and held off Sloan-Hendrix in the final frame for the five-point win.
Heather Bales posted a 10-point, 12-board double-double for Salem.
In the tourney's opening round, the Lady Hounds beat the Midland Lady Mustangs 55-32, with Heather Bales leading the way with 18 points. Brittney Bales followed with 10 as Salem posted its 11th win in a row.
"We really took that loss at Calico Rock (Jan. 20) hard. We kind of got lazy, and we realized that we're a better team than that. So we re-dedicated our efforts, said Chambers.
This re-dedication started in the Lady Hounds' practice sessions, according to Chambers.
"We have an excellent group of kids that don't see a lot of playing time for us. But they really push us in practice. We're just not five kids; everyone on the roster has made a big contribution during this streak," he said.
Another important piece of Salem's puzzle is the willingness to play together.
"We've got such an unselfish group of kids. They really enjoy each other, and they enjoy practice. Those two things are as important as anything else," Chambers said.