Lady Comets start strong, finish strong en route to tourney title
As the last seconds were set to tick off the clock in the championship game of the Van Buren Lady Dawg Classic Dec. 2, it was fitting that Alton's Shelli Ellis stood at the free throw line, ready to close the book on the homestanding Lady Dawgs of Van Buren.
After all, this tournament had been one huge party for Ellis, as she had helped the third-seeded Lady Comets advance to the finals with a pair of outstanding games in the first two rounds of play.
And with 17 ticks standing between Alton and the Lady Dawg title, Ellis ended the tournament as strong as the way she started it, tossing in a free throw to help the Lady Comets hold off Van Buren 51-44 for the championship hardware.
Ellis averaged 23 points a game during the 2006 Lady Dawg Classic, finishing with 17 points in the finals despite being saddled with four fouls and sitting out half of the third period and a good chunk of the fourth against Van Buren. This after Ellis had opened tournament play by exploding for a tourney-high 34 points against Ellington in the first round.
After knocking off the top-seeded Thayer Lady Bobcats in the semi-final round, Van Buren, the fourth-seed, was eager to make it two upsets in a row and started off against Alton by grabbing a 6-4 lead in the first period.
This didn't faze Alton one bit.
The Lady Comets simply went on a 7-zip run to close the frame and take an 11-6 lead after one.
Sam Allred, who had a huge outing with 15 points in the title game, started the run with three straight points, and Ellis drained back-to-back hoops to close the run for Alton.
A free throw from Ashlie Turner midway into the second period helped keep Alton's lead at five, 15-10.
Then the Lady Dawgs put together a nice 6-0 run to grab the lead for the first time in the second, 16-15.
Alton had the last big run of the first half, a 5-2 push that gave the Lady Comets a 20-18 lead at intermission.
An old-fashioned 3-point play from Lauren Hatten (eight points) kept Alton rolling early in the third, but Van Buren got its outside game on track thanks to Marie Getts.
Getts busted a couple of big treys in the third to help Van Buren wipe out Alton's six-point advantage and lock the game at 29-all.
With Ellis on the bench in foul trouble for the last part of the third, Hatten capped the frame on a positive note by knocking down a shot as time wound down to give the Lady Comets a 31-29 lead after three.
Ellis made her way back to the floor with 3:50 left in the fourth, with Alton holding a 42-36 lead at that point, thanks to the work of Allred and Jessica Bailey early in the final period.
Bailey (two points, seven assists) found Allred on the low blocks for back-to-back hoops to keep the Lady Dawgs at bay. Allred racked up nine big points in the last eight minutes of play for the Lady Comets.
Van Buren pulled within four, 46-42, with just over a minute left to play, but Alton grabbed the tourney title by closing the game on a 5-2 run to win by seven points.
Sarah Rowe finished with four points for Alton, while Katy Rowe and Courtney Gazaway logged two points apiece for the Lady Comets.
In the semifinals, the Lady Comets pushed past their Big Spring Conference rivals from Couch 52-46 on Dec. 1.
The first half was close going, as the second-seeded Lady Indians and Alton battled tooth and nail.
With Couch in front 10-4 midway into the first period, the Lady Comets peeled off a 10-4 run to lock the game at 14-all after one.
The Lady Indians got five straight points, including a trey, from Tara Combs halfway into the second, to push Couch back in front 23-19. Combs paced Couch with 14 points on the night.
Just as quick, Alton used a 4-0 spurt thanks to hoops from Hatten and Ellis, to knot things at 23-all. The Hatten/Ellis combo was responsible for 18 points apiece to lead Alton. Hatten made it a double-double effort on her part by snagging 11 rebounds.
Allred (nine points) drained a triple near the end of the half to send the two teams to the break tied at 27-all.
Kandy York (10 points) opened the third with a hoop for Couch, giving the Lady Indians a slim lead they would keep until deep in the frame.
But it was Alton that had the last say in the third.
Ellis started an 8-0 spurt with a shade under two minutes left that gave the Lady Comets a 42-36 lead after three.
The Lady Indians chipped into this margin, and with 39 seconds left in the game, Couch trailed 47-46.
But Alton iced the contest with five straight free throws to top Couch 52-46.
Bailey finished with three points for Alton, while Gazaway and Sarah Rowe added two points each.
Samantha LaBahn logged seven points for Couch, with Lorra Wicker hitting for five. Kassi Burr and Whitney Mills logged three points each, with Sadee Risner and Jessica Jones scoring two points apiece.
In the opening round, it was all Ellis, all the time.
She exploded for 34 points, matching the output of the sixth-seeded Ellington Lady Whippets all by herself in Alton's 58-34 win Nov. 27.
Couch advanced to a semi-final meeting with Alton thanks to a 54-21 win over the seventh-seeded Mountain View/Birch Tree Liberty Lady Eagles Nov. 27.