Playing in their third straight Northeast Arkansas Invitational Tournament finals in the last three years, Cave City managed to outlast upset-minded Rivercrest and win the girls' 1A-2A-3A title with a hard-fought 46-40 victory Dec. 30 at the Convocation Center in Jonesboro.
The top-seeded Cavewomen had lost in the championship game the last two years to the East Poinsett County Lady Warriors. However, this year, there would be no EPC squad waiting for Cave City (13-2) in the finals. Rivercrest, the tourney's 18th seed, took care of that by knocking off the second-seeded Lady Warriors in the tournament's second round.
Then after pulling past Cedar Ridge, the Lady Colts upset sixth-seeded Riverside in the semis.
But the Cavewomen refused to play victim to Rivercrest in the finals.
Brooklyn Brinkley made sure of that.
With Cave City's main inside force, Cheyenne Childers (four points) on the bench after fouling out late in the game, Brinkley got busy down low.
The Cavewomen were trailing 37-33 when Brinkley took the game over, scoring seven straight points inside two minutes for Cave City. She paced Cave City with 13 points in the championship contest.
Brinkley's old-fashioned 3-point play with 1:39 left in the game gave Cave City the lead for good, 40-38. Jessica Hall (six points) and Amelia Bray (10 points) hit a pair of free throws apiece and then Brinkley tossed in her own missed free throw at the buzzer to wrap up Cave City's six-point victory over Rivercrest.
Cave City led 31-25 early in the third, thanks in part to a technical foul called on Lady Colt Chyna Smith, but Rivercrest caught up with the Cavewomen at 31-all by going on a 5-0 run.
This was after a third period that saw Rivercrest go without a field goal in the frame, with the Lady Colts' only points in the third coming via four free throws from Jaressa Banks.
Brittney Landers nailed Cave City's only trey of the game in the third, helping the Cavewomen to a 26-24 lead after three.
Cave City held a 12-11 advantage after the first period, but Rivercrest grabbed the lead, 15-14, midway into the second period on a layup from Carlisha Miner.
Haley Bell (eight points) then reeled off three consecutive points for the Cavewomen, putting Cave City on top by two.
But the Lady Colts had the last word in the first half thanks to a traditional 3-point play from Miner that sent the teams to the half with Rivercrest in front 20-19.
The going was just as tight in the second half as it was in the first, but Cave City managed to edge ahead, and then stay ahead, thanks to some big play from Brinkley down the stretch in the fourth.
Lindsey Wooldridge tallied two points for Cave City.
Bell, Bray, Brinkley and Childers were all named to the All-NEA Tournament team.
In the semis on Dec. 29, Cave City survived a strong push from Manila to knock off the fourth-seeded Lady Lions 55-45 in overtime.
The game was locked at 44-all after regulation, but the Cavewomen outscored Manila 11-1 in the extra frame to earn a ticket to the finals. Childers scored the first six points of overtime for Cave City. She paced the Cavewomen with a team-high 23 points on the afternoon.
In overtime, Cave City went seven-for-eight from the charity stripe.
Manila's Kimberley Wise led all scorers with a 27-point effort.
The game was tight in the first half, with Manila holding a 14-12 lead after the first period.
Though they went the first four minutes of the second period without a field goal, the Lady Lions managed to keep pace with Cave City by canning eight free throws during that stretch.
The lead changed sides seven times in the second period and Manila closed the first half with an 8-2 run to hold a 33-28 advantage at intermission.
Cave City came storming back in a big way in the third period. Getting a huge lift from Bell (13 points), Cave City held the Lady Lions to just one point in the third, while scoring 13 points themselves.
Bell had nine points in the third, pushing the Cavewomen on top 41-34.
In the fourth, it was Wise's turn to impact the game and she did just that by ripping off six straight points to tie the game at 42-all midway into the fourth.
The Cavewomen moved ahead 44-42 on a putback from Childers with 1:17 left in the fourth, but Wise hit a layup with 22 ticks left to lock the contest at 44-all, sending the game to an extra frame.
Brinkley and Hall tallied seven points each for Cave City, while Landers had three and Wooldridge two.