The black-and-red of the Couch Lady Indians' fans filled more than one section on one side of the Van Buren gym March 4, while the burgundy-and-gold of the Neelyville Lady Tiger fans had their own overflowing section across the floor.
With this as a backdrop, two of the top 10 teams in girls' Class 2 hoops squared off in the Class 2 District 2 title game, with a trip to the state sectionals on the line.
And after a year's absence from the state playoffs, the Lady Indians (22-3), currently ranked at number three in Class 2, are back in, thanks to a 54-48 victory over Neelyville (19-5).
Couch was pitted opposite Seneth-Hornersville March 9 in the state sectional round at Poplar Bluff High School.
In the district finals, The Lady Tigers, entering the game at number 10 in Class 2, used good team-play and passes around the perimeter to find and sink open shots, then dropped lob passes in the post for more points in the paint. Neelyville's height proved to be an advantage in rebounding and also led to second shot attempts.
Couch, still shaking off the big-game jitters, was unable to get into a rhythm or to get shots to fall early in the game, and the Lady Indians fell behind 10-2 with three-and-a-half minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Couch's Alex Hower intercepted a Lady Tiger pass and tossed the ball ahead to Sarah Neptune who cut to the basket for a kick-start score.
The Lady Indians then ripped off 10 straight points in the final two-and-a-half minutes of the first period, to end the period down two, 14-12.
Defense from Couch made for some altered and missed shots by the Lady Tigers and catch-up, go-ahead opportunities for the Lady Indians.
Trips to the free throw line for Hower and Neptune helped to even the score. Lizzie Nessling's pull-up jumper put Couch on top with 5:31 remaining in the second.
Crystal Britt fired a shot over Neelyville's Brittany McElhaney's outstretched arms, adding to the Lady Indians' 20 points scored in the second.
Jordon Hale added good hall handling and pesky defense on Neelyville's much taller Jackie Griffin, which helped to hold a 32-28 Couch advantage at the halftime break.
As fans returned to their seats after leg-stretching, long concession lines and bathroom breaks, Neelyville's Coach Hale and the usually stoic Couch Coach Cecil Meyer, nervously paced the sidelines, barking out instructions and plays to their respective girls.
Couch got some outstanding ball handling, defense and drives to the hoop from Cassie Roberts to boost a spur of the Lady Indians in the third.
Rebounds and break-out passes by Nessling and Britt found Neptune streaking to the net, pushing the Lady Indians in front 46-37 at the end of three periods of play.
Halfway through the final frame, Couch held a nine-point advantage.
Using the quickness of their three-guard set, the Lady Indians controlled the ball and the tempo.
With the lead on their side, Meyer called out a play which sent the Lady Indians into their stall-ball, keep-away game to make the Lady Tigers work harder on defense and run precious time off of the clock.
Neelyville did manage a couple of buckets and a trip to the free-throw line to narrow the gap, but it was not enough to overcome the Couch Lady Indians' 54-48 final score.
The Lady Indians blasted past the tournament hosts from Van Buren Feb. 28, 57-42.
Nessling paved the way with 20 points, with Hower adding 13 points for Couch.
The Indians' season came to a close with an 83-55 loss to the Neelyville Tigers Feb. 26.