SPORTS >>Owls top Harding Academy, Lady Wildcats stay perfect
By JASON KING
Leader sports writer
Harding Academy and Abundant Life faced off Tuesday to begin the second week of 2-3A Conference play. The Lady Wildcats stayed perfect in league play with a 56-41 win over the Lady Owls, keeping Abundant Life winless through the first three division games. The Owls picked up their first conference win with a dominating 59-37 victory over the Wildcats.
The common theme with both losing teams on the night was the absence of some of their biggest playmakers.
Abundant Life senior shooting guard Sierra Durham went down with a knee injury early on, and did not return.
Durham did not see a full quarter of action in the contest, and retired with only three points.
James Kee was the missing man for the Wildcats on Tuesday. The senior post sat out the game after being disciplined by officials at last Friday’s game against Riverview. That combined with fellow senior Luke Tribble running at about 80 percent during the game made the Wildcats officially outgunned by Abundant Life.
Two straight losses are usually not enough for a coach to declare a losing streak, but for Abundant Life coach Tim Ballard, two losses to start the conference season were enough. The head Owl changed his normal procedure for prepping his team against Harding Academy, a move that most definitely payed off.
“I normally tell my guys every- thing they need to know about an opponent,” Ballard said. “What every player’s name is, his position, and what is his weapon. But after we lost those first two, though, I decided that we needed to worry about ourselves more than someone else. We didn’t talk about any of that, we just emphasized on learning to share the ball better.”
The players took Ballard’s advice to heart. Three Owls finished with double-digit scoring in the game. Senior John Michael Fowler led with 17 points, including the first nine points in the game to help the Owls rush out to a blistering 9-0 lead by the 4:11 mark.
Senior post Thomas Cheney scored 10 second half points to bump his game total to 14 points on the night, but the biggest surprise from the Owls’ offense was junior shooting guard Colby Woolverton.
Woolverton finished with a respectable 12 points, but he had several more looks. The youngster fought his instinct to launch a three-pointer on several occasions and kicked the ball back out.
He also came away with some very impressive assists, including a perfect alley-oop pass to Cheney that went for a slam, and two well-executed back-door assists to Fowler, both of which went for easy, wide open layups in the fourth quarter.
The first quarter was the John Michael Fowler show. Fowler put away four free throws, hit a three pointer and an inside basket to put the Owls out front 9-0 early. Nick Beene finally answered for the Wildcats with a three-point shot at the 3:42 mark of the first quarter.
Beene felt pressured by the Owls the entire night. The senior was double-teamed by Woolverton and Fowler for much of the game, and responded with rushed shots that fell short for the most part. Beene did finish with 20 points to lead Harding Academy, but was held to only two points for much of the second half until he scored a basket and a three inside the final 1:38 of the game.
Abundant Life took a 31-17 lead at the half, and the second half would be much of the same. The Owls led by 15 points heading into the final frame, and broke the 20-point barrier with a free throw from Cheney with 1:51 remaining.
“I needed that one, that’s all I can say” Ballard said. “I was going to jump off a bridge or something if we didn’t get a conference win before Christmas. I’m pleased with the effort, and it’s always good to get a win. I’m happy right now, but I will probably be depressed tomorrow when I look at the film.”
The win gave Abundant Life a 14-4 overall and 1-2 conference record. The loss puts Harding Academy’s record at 3-3 and 0-3.
The Lady Wildcats had an equally easy time in the girls contest.
Harding Academy got out to an early lead with two three-point shots from Katie Koch. By the end of the first eight minutes, the Lady Wildcats had jumped out front 18-9, but the Lady Owls were able to trim off a couple of those points in the next frame.
Liz Ashley continued the assault for the Lady ’Cats in the second quarter scoring eight of her total 16 points in the frame.
The Lady Wildcats led 29-21 at the intermission, but took advantage of Durham’s absence in the second half to pull away. Sophomores Hannah Pastor and Brittany Sharp took up a good deal of Durham’s slack in the final two quarters, but the Lady Owls field goal percentage sank without their best shooter on the floor.
Koch led Harding Academy with 22 points, with 16 points added from Ashley. Pastor led Abundant Life with 15 points, and Sharp added 10 points for the Lady Owls.
The Lady Wildcats are now 8-1 overall and 3-0 in conference play.
Harding Academy played at Brinkley last night, and will host Shirley today at 6 p.m. Abundant Life traveled to Pine Bluff to take on Drew Central last night, and will begin the Lutheran tournament starting Wednesday.