Lady Bears second in regional tournament, earn trip to Jessieville
The past four years the Mammoth Spring Lady Bears have edged closer and closer to the door that leads to the state basketball tournament.
Step by step the Lady Bears have found the path and confidence needed to gain entry to the field of competition for a state title.
This year that path is complete, as Mammoth Spring punched its ticket to the Class A State Tournament in Prescott with a strong showing in the Region 3 Tournament at the Screamin' Eagles' Nest at Hillcrest High School.
Not only did the Lady Bears gain admittance to the state tournament, they also had a shot at the regional championship, with a date opposite the homestanding Screamin' Lady Eagles in the finals Feb. 25.
Hillcrest had knocked Mammoth Spring off in the 2A-East District Tournament finals a week prior to their meeting in the regional title game, and the Lady Screamin' Eagles would once again deny the Lady Bears a tourney title, as Hillcrest prevailed 64-53.
Mammoth Spring (23-11), which entered the Class A top 10 at number 10, had bested Hillcrest 73-36 in the two teams' first meeting this season, but the Screamin' Lady Eagles can now claim winning three-out-of-four meetings with the Lady Bears this year.
Hillcrest (24-11) basically led wire-to-wire in the regional finals, but Mammoth Spring made things interesting with a late charge in the fourth period.
After trailing by as many as 18 in the third period, the Lady Bears trimmed into Hillcrest's lead with an 8-0 run to end the frame with Mammoth Spring down 48-38 after three.
Still on a roll after their last-minute push in the third, the Lady Bears opened the fourth strong with a 3-ball from Kylee Busch (nine points) and layup by Melanie Maguffee that pulled Mammoth Spring within five, 48-43. Maguffee had a huge second half for Mammoth Spring, as she tossed in all of her team-leading 11 points in the third and fourth periods.
However, five points would prove to be as close as the Lady Bears could get to Hillcrest in the fourth.
Free throw shooting betrayed Mammoth Spring a bit in the game's final eight minutes, as the Lady Bears missed seven big charity tosses in the fourth period while trying to make up ground on the Screamin' Lady Eagles.
Jodie Walsh (10 points) came on strong in the last three minutes of the game for Mammoth Spring by posting five points, but Hillcrest still managed to win 64-53.
Defense ruled the first period, as it took four minutes of play before the first points of the night were recorded on the scoreboard.
Jonnie Bellows (four points) got Mammoth Spring going with a layup, but Hillcrest responded with a 7-0 run to move in front 7-2 in the first period.
Busch stopped the Screamin' Lady Eagles' run with a layup, as Hillcrest took a 9-4 lead to the second period.
Second-chance points for Hillcrest turned out to be a thorn in the Lady Bears' side on this night, as the Screamin' Lady Eagles sealed Mammoth Spring away from the backboards.
The Screamin' Lady Eagles began to pull away midway into the second with another 7-0 run.
Down 24-12 with a shade over two minutes left until the half, Kayly Vest started a late push for Mammoth Spring with a layup.
Ann Whiteside (10 points) posted Mammoth Spring's last three points of the first half, all from the charity stripe, but the Lady Bears were in a 30-17 hole at intermission.
Fueled by a large home crowd, Hillcrest continued to build upon this lead, going up by as many as 18 points in the third, and then holding off one last charge from Mammoth Spring to capture the Region 3 Tournament title.
Courtney Risner finished with five points for the Lady Bears, while Ashley Walsh logged two.
In a 24-21 hole at the half in the semi-final round against Delaplaine Feb. 24, the Lady Bears simply responded by blowing the doors off the Lady Indians with a 21-11 run in the third period, en route to a 60-44 victory.
Jodie Walsh paced Mammoth Spring with 18 points, while Whiteside finished with 12, and Ashley Walsh 11.
The Lady Bears made it out of the first round of the tourney, but not without a bit of a tussle.
The Crowley Ridge Academy Lady Falcons stayed close to Mammoth Spring for two and a half periods before the Lady Bears turned it on late to knock off CRA 62-53 Feb. 23.
Mammoth Spring was able to top the Lady Falcons despite Whiteside being saddled with foul trouble for most of the night, and instead of her normal double-figure output in scoring, Whiteside rang up just eight points in the time she was on the floor.
CRA opened the game up 3-0 after the Lady Falcons dropped in a trey to start the contest.
As it turned out, it was a good thing for Mammoth Spring that CRA's first hoop of the evening was a 3-pointer.
The Lady Falcons fell in love with the outside shot in the first period and continued to bomb away from outside the arc. The only problem with this was CRA's accuracy from beyond the 3-point stripe.
After their first one dropped in, the Lady Falcons missed their next eight 3-point attempts, and that lone trey ended up being CRA's only field goal of the first period.
The Lady Bears took control early by working the ball on the low block.
Whiteside tossed in Mammoth Spring's first three points of the night, and a jumper from Ashley Walsh gave the Lady Bears a 5-3 lead. Walsh paced the Lady Bears in scoring with 13 points for the game.
With Mammoth Spring on top 7-3, the Lady Falcons did drop in three free throws before Risner (nine points) had the last say in the first for Mammoth Spring with a triple from the corner that gave the Lady Bears a 10-6 lead after one.
After missing so many 3s in the first period, CRA wisely opened the second by trying to work the ball inside.
This change in strategy worked out to the tune of a 9-2 run to open the frame for the Lady Falcons, pushing CRA in front 15-12 at the 5:20 mark.
The Lady Falcons' lead remained at three, 21-18, when the Lady Bears got a big spark off the bench from Vest.
Vest (10 points) was hacked shooting a 3-pointer, and she calmly stepped to the line and sank all three free throws to knot the game at 21-all with 2:34 left until the half.
Vest was not done, and 20 seconds later she tossed in two more from the charity stripe to push Mammoth Spring on top 23-21.
Two free throws at the 30-second mark from Jodie Walsh (six points) sent the teams to the half with the Lady Bears ahead 27-23.
With a chance to extend this lead early in the third period, the Lady Bears turned the ball over on back-to-back occasions, and CRA took advantage by racking up five unanswered points to push in front 28-27.
This CRA lead didn't hold up long, as Vest canned a trey and Kylee Busch (four points) drained a jumper to give Mammoth Spring the advantage, 32-28.
Walsh made sure the Lady Bears opened up some breathing room by ringing up Mammoth Spring's next five points, pushing her team out to a 37-30 lead with 2:03 left in the third.
Maguffee (10 points) recorded four points inside the last 1:30 for Mammoth Spring, sending the Lady Bears to a 43-35 lead after three.
The Lady Falcons closed within three points, 43-40, early in the fourth, but a pair of triples from Risner in the frame's first four minutes kept CRA on hold, as Mammoth Spring opened up a double-digit lead down the stretch, en route to a nine-point win over a scrappy group of Lady Falcons.
Heather Watson finished with two points for the Lady Bears.