By Tony Burns
HAMPTON - Strong closed the game with an 11-2 run and Dynasty Davis hit two free throws with 7.4 left as the Lady Bulldogs nipped Hermitage 46-44 in the semifinals of the 1A Region 5 Tournament on Friday.
Strong improved to 21-6 and will take on Ouachita in the regional championship game tonight at 6 p.m. in Hampton.
Led by freshman Cindy Wilkerson, the Lady Hermits carried a 38-29 lead into the fourth quarter. Strong held Hermitage to six points in the final period. Davis, a sophomore, drained a 3-pointer to tie the game with a minute left.
Hermitage turned the ball over on a double dribble with 45 seconds remaining. Strong held for the final shot with Davis barreling into the lane and drawing a blocking foul with 7.4 on the clock. She made the front end of the 1-and-1 and, after a timeout, hit the second free throw for a two-point lead.
Hermitage went to Wilkerson, who drove baseline before pulling up for a short jumper. The shot bounced off the back of the rim. Chelsey McDougald got the offensive rebound and went back up for the shot, which bounced off the rim as the horn expired.
“Coming back and not laying down when we got down 10 … these girls have been in a lot of battles, a lot of close games. That helped us that we’ve been there before,” said Strong coach Jason Porter. “I know where I’m coaching. I’m coaching Strong. We’ve had a lot of success and that helps. These girls know how to finish.”
Davis struggled (for her) offensively and finished with 22 points. But, 10 of those came in the fourth quarter. Seniors Kiki Shelton and Amaya Smith did more than their fair share, however. Shelton scored 10 while Smith added eight with 11 rebounds.
“Those two seniors have been playing with Lulu their whole lives. That happens sometimes. I don’t know if (Hermitage) did a lot to stop her, she just got frustrated. That’s part of being 15-years-old, too,” said Porter. “But, those two keeping us in the ball game and our rebounding finally got better in the second half. We were about to get blown out of the gym because we weren’t blocking out.
“And, they stepped up. We got a little more rugged with them and they didn’t like it.”
Wilkerson led Hermitage with 16 points and Cassidy Hollensworth added 15.
The Lady Hermits used a 12-0 run to build a 24-13 lead midway in the second. Strong cut the deficit to 26-20 at the half. Hermitage would lead 38-29 at the end of three quarters.
Buckets by Smith and Davis and a free throw by Davis, cut the margin to 42-40 with 2:24 remaining. Hermitage got the ball inside to Wilkerson, who was fouled and hit two free throws.
Shelton drove inside and got fouled, hitting one at the line for Strong. After a turnover, Shelton missed a shot in the lane. Angel Demler went to the floor to dig out the loose ball and managed to shovel it out to Davis, left alone behind the arc. Her 3-pointer knotted the game with a minute left.
Bigger than the 3-pointer, however, were the two free throws. The Lady Bulldogs lost several games at the line this season. Finally, they won one there.
“The six games we’ve lost this year have been because of free throws. It wasn’t because the other team did something to us. When it’s gut-check time and they had to have them, they made them,” said Porter. “It’s frustrating as a coach. You try everything, call every coach in the world and they all say, ‘they just have to have the guts to make them.’ That’s what it comes down to in basketball. They have to have guts.”
Another key for Strong’s comeback was a second-half surge on the defensive boards. Freshman Chrischunda Williams came off the bench after halftime to help Edneshia Cooper combat Hermitage’s size in the paint.
“She came in and did a good job,” Porter said.
The Lady Bulldogs won the regional tournament last year and now find themselves back in a familiar spot.
“Getting to the finals is icing on the cake. But, they know what it felt like to win it last year,” said Porter. “We’ve got the trophy in my office and we all looked at it before we left today. We wanted to have a chance to win it again and now we do. And, we’ll have the whole dang town of Strong over here. That’s the funnest part about coaching in Strong. They’re all going to show up.”
JUNCTION CITY 63
FORDYCE - A day after topping Cossatot River to clinch a spot in next week's state tournament, the Lady Dragons (17-14) fell to the Lady Panthers, the 7-2A West's No. 1 seed in the semifinals of the 4-3A Regional Tournament.
Camya Hamilton had 20 points and three assists, while Jada Archie added 19 points and eight rebounds for Junction City.
Bryanna Raye was also in double figures with 11 points to go along with two steals, and Taykeetria Rogers had seven points and seven assists for the Lady Dragons.
After the game was tied at 16-all after one period of play, Fouke used a 27-point second quarter to take a 43-33 lead at halftime.
Junction City sliced Fouke's lead to 50-46 after three periods, but couldn't finish off their comeback bid.
The Lady Dragons will take on Prescott in the third-place game at noon today.