SPORTS>>Academy ladies win co-conference crown
Harding Academy’s senior night wasn’t just a celebration of their contributions to the Wildcats and Lady Wildcats teams over the past few years, but a continuation of it, as four starting seniors for each of the HA teams led the way in big conference wins over local rival Pangburn Friday night at Harris gym. The Lady Wildcats had a surprisingly easy time against the Lady Tigers, winning 47-28 to earn a share of the 3A-2 conference championship with crosstown rival Riverview. Pangburn entered the week a game ahead of the two Searcy schools, but lost to both of them to finish conference play with an 11-3 mark.
Academy, 12-2, loses the tiebreaker with Riverview for the top seed in the district tournament, but is still recognized and conference co-champions. Seniors combined for 39 of the 47 points for the Lady Wildcats in the title-winning performance.
The Lady Wildcats put on one of their best defensive performances of the year when it counted the most, building up a 20-11 lead at halftime before plowing over the Lady Tigers in the third quarter with a 17-6 run in the frame to take control of the game before the final period even began.
Loghan Lowery helped Harding Academy out to the early advantage with a pair of three pointers in the first quarter, along with another three from point guard Taylor Pryor. Liz Ashley led the way for the Lady ‘Cats in the third quarter with six of her total eight points. Harding Academy was on the way to a 30-point lead midway through the final quarter with subs on the floor, but a series of late threes from Pangburn’s Kendra. Reaves padded the score slightly before game’s end. Reaves hit three times from behind the arc for all her total nine points.
“We came out with a purpose,” Lady Wildcats coach Darren Mathews said. “We wanted a share of the conference championship, and Pangburn stood in the way. Tonight, it was senior night, and our four seniors led in scoring. I told the girls they were battle tested now, and they’re ready to start the new season, which is the district tournament.”
Jennifer Kee led Harding Academy with 13 points, including three of four from the free throw line. Pryor and Lowery finished with nine points each, and Ashley added eight points for the Lady Wildcats.
Jennifer Kee led with 13 points. Loghan Lowery and Taylor Pryor both had nine, and Liz Ashley battled a 103 degree fever to finish with eight points for Harding Academy. The win gives Harding Academy a 18-4 overall record this season. The Wildcats also saw strong play from their seniors during their 60-51 come-from-behind win over the Tigers. A blistering run from HA senior post James Kee in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter would prove to be the difference maker in the game, giving the Wildcats the momentum for the remainder of the game.
The first score of the game didn’t occur until the 5:54 mark, when Pangburn’s Justin Williams landed a jumper for a 2-0 Tigers lead. Lance Carr put up HA’s first point with a free throw on the following possession, but Pangburn would rebound the back side resulting in a fade shot in the paint from Jeremy Hollingshead. Hollingshead would turn out to be the missing link between winning and losing for the Tigers on Friday. With him in the lineup, the Tigers held the game’s momentum for a solid performance on both ends of the court. Without him, Pangburn struggled to find good looks at the basket after a good 16 minutes of shooting during the first half.
Even Williams, who contributed 10 points in the first half alone would have trouble picking his way through the stingier HA defense. Pangburn did a good job of creating their own shooting zones in the first half with a number of fade jumpers around the lower perimeter. Hollingshead hit a pair of step-back shots during the first quarter, but converted to an assist ace in the second quarter with several good feeds to Williams for points.
Hollingshead went out with foul trouble after drawing two quick fouls under the Harding basket during the last minute of the third to give him four personals, and the Wildcats took advantage with their biggest run of the game. Hollingshead hit Pangburn’s final goal in the third with 1:22 left with a rebound and assist from Wes Jackson off a missed free throw from Hollingshead. He had hit the front end to put Pangburn up 37-34, but the grab and give from Jackson allowed Hollingshead to increase the advantage to five.
The Wildcats closed to within a single point by the end of the frame, and got a quick boost from James Kee in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to help HA take control. Kee rolled up six points in a matter of 15 seconds to take Harding Academy from a 41-38 deficit to a 44-41 lead by the 5:45 mark. Alex Beene gave the new lead a little padding moments later with a three-point basket, and two free throws from Luke Tribble at the 2:26 mark gave the Wildcats a 48-41 lead, completing the 10-0 run for Harding.
Hollingshead would return in the final two minutes for Pangburn, but the Wildcats had already secured a solid lead, and Tribble’s nine for 12 at the line in the final 2:26 did not allow the Tigers to play catch up. “I thought our guards looked good tonight,” Wildcats coach Rick Beene said. “I thought B.J. Roller was the player of the game for us. The seniors looked a little nervous with it being senior night, but B.J. stepped in kind of non chalant. James Kee played well, but we couldn’t keep him out of foul trouble.”
Tribble led in scoring with 24 points for Harding Academy. Beene added 18 points, and Kee finished with eight. The win improves HA’s record to in conference 8-6 and 12-10 overall. Harding Academy played at Izard County last night after Leader deadlines, and will host Des Arc Friday in preparation of next week’s district tournament at Riverview High.