By Tony Burns
HAMPTON - Strong lost a pair of close games to Nevada during the regular season. But, with the season on the line Thursday, the last thing on the Lady Bulldogs’ mind was another close game.
Led by Dynasty Davis’ 36 points, Strong put the mercy-rule on the Lady Bluejays, rolling to a 62-35 victory in the 1A Region 5 Tournament.
The Lady Bulldogs improved to 20-6 and qualified for next week’s Class 1A State Tournament in Morrilton.
Strong will face Hermitage today in the regional semifinals, beginning at 4 p.m. at Hampton High School.
Davis, a sophomore guard, devoured Nevada’s man-to-man, slicing through the defense for lay-ups.
She did that when she wasn’t leaking out for easy fast-break buckets.
“In big games, you hope your best player steps up. Even though she’s really young, that’s what she is. In the biggest spotlights, the athleticism and her skill, it comes out,” said Strong coach Jason Porter.
“I expected her to come out and give me 25 or 30. I really did. It wasn’t nothing for her to do. That’s what she’s been doing the whole year.”
Davis had three assists and three steals to go with her points.
Strong never trailed, opening up a 12-4 lead after one quarter. The margin was 24-14 before the Lady Bulldogs went on a 16-3 run. Davis’ steal and lay-up increased the margin to 40-17 midway in the third.
“They had a little different focus. They were ready to get to this game,” Porter said of his team.
“You could tell from the get-go. They were hungry. I knew they were going to respond. I expected them to play like that. For a go-home game? They knew what it was for. It’s what I expected out of them.”
Strong led 49-28 going into the fourth quarter and then went on a 13-0 run, which pushed the cushion to 62-30 with 2:15 left to play.
Amaya Smith went double-double for the Lady Bulldogs with 12 points, 10 rebounds and three steals.
Kiki Shelton scored eight with eight boards. Edneshia Cooper had four points but grabbed seven defensive boards and battled inside against a bigger Nevada frontline.
“(Smith) gives me a lot of rebounding. Her jumping ability overcomes that size. Cooper doesn’t have a lot of athleticism but she’s a smart player and she knows where to get,” said Porter.
“Those girls were big. Once we started putting a body on them, they tried it to throw it down to them and they were throwing it out of bounds because we started putting bodies on them.”
Kiara Frazier scored eight for the Lady Bluejays.
Strong will now face league foe Hermitage today. The teams split in their two meetings in the regular season.
The Lady Hermits added talent from its junior high roster for the postseason.
“Now, we’re on to Hermitage and we know what we get with Hermitage,” said Porter.
“Their one good junior high girl, she plays on the front of their press. For what we do, it’s not going to hurt us. If she wants to get up and press us, she can. I’d welcome it. And, they do. They’ve pressed everybody else but they haven’t pressed us, yet.
“It’s going to be a good game. But, this was the biggest game. Just getting us into the state tournament was the goal tonight and that’s all that mattered. I’ll worry about Hermitage when I get home.”