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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Lady Pirates headed to Hot Springs

Monday, March 14, 2011

They were staring point-blank down the barrel of their biggest deficit of the state tournament.

With a trip to the state championship game on the line.

But the Calico Rock Lady Pirates didn't blink.

They just did what they do best.

They played ball.

Overcoming an 11-point hole early in the third period, the Lady Pirates (36-5) rallied to overthrow the Wickes Lady Warriors (33-3) 52-44 March 5 at Harold Ray Jeffery Gymnasium in the Class 1A state semi-final round.

Not only did the comeback victory over Wickes send Calico Rock to the state championship game in Hot Springs, it also gave the Lady Pirates a measure of revenge. Four years ago in the state semis in Clinton, it was the Lady Warriors who ended Calico Rock's season one step short of an appearance in the final game.

Calico Rock takes on the Sacred Heart Lady Rebels March 11 at 8:45 p.m at Summit Arena in Hot Springs.

So what was the key to beating a very talented team like Wickes, earning Calico Rock its first shot at a state championship since the mid-1970s?

"Good players. I know that's an easy answer, but it's the truth," Calico Rock Head Coach Josh Wright said. "Our girls just wouldn't quit."

The Lady Pirates were in a 30-19 hole early in the third, when the light switch went on and Calico Rock changed the complexion of the contest completely, keyed by a 14-2 explosion.

First, Emily Johnson, the regional MVP, drilled a trey. Then, Brooke McCurley (six points) added a big-time 3-ball.

After a turnover by the Lady Warriors, Johnson drilled another triple, pulling Calico Rock within two, 30-28, after it had trailed by 11 seconds earlier.

Johnson then sank a layup after another Wickes turnover, knotting the score at 30-all.

But Johnson was just getting warmed up.

She racked up Calico Rock's next eight points to push the Lady Pirates in front 38-37 with 1:32 left in the third. Sixteen of Johnson's team-high 18 points came in the critical third period.

A layup by Savannah Skidmore (nine points) just before the buzzer, gave Calico Rock a 42-40 lead after three.

"Down by 11 early in the third -- it's great when you can hit some shots like we did -- but the key is determination," Wright said. "What my girls have between their ears makes us a smart team. They play so hard and refuse to quit."

And that determination was all the Lady Pirates needed.

Calico Rock held Wickes to just four points in the last eight minutes of play to emerge with the 52-44 victory.

Brittany Fountain (nine points) opened the final frame with a trey, while Taylor Cox (six points) tacked on a jumper in the lane to push the Lady Pirates in front 47-42.

McCurley and Karli Gillihan (four points) added charity tosses down the stretch to keep Calico Rock on top.

Wickes led 13-8 after one and 28-19 at the half.

Then, the Lady Pirates outscored Wickes 33-16 in the second half.

"Our defense wasn't what I wanted in the first half, but at the same time, I also wanted us to get better looks on offense," said Wright. "And we shared the ball better in the third. And knocking down a few shots can be a big adrenaline boost and that helped us on defense."

That adrenaline boost now sends Calico Rock all the way to Summit Arena in Hot Springs.

"It means a lot (for a chance at a state championship)," Wright said. "To take these girls from my hometown to the finals ... I just wanted this job ... but to get to go to the finals and do something that some of their moms and aunts and other relatives and friends did, keeping that tradition alive, is very, very special."

Danielle Frachiseur paced Wickes, the 2004 state champs, with a game-high 19 points.

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