Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

SPORTS >>Beebe girls season ends

Leader sports editor

PINE BLUFF – They had a starter on the bench with mononucleosis. But it was the No. 1 seeded Lady Badgers on the court who were exhibiting the symptoms.

Beebe turned in a surprisingly sluggish performance in the opening round of the 5A state tournament, falling to Vilonia, the four seed from the 5A-West Conference, 54-36 at the Pine Bluff Convention Center on Tuesday afternoon.

“We came out with intensity and played well the first four minutes of the game,” said Beebe coach Lora Jackson. “Then our intensity kind of dropped. They picked up their defense and we struggled to score. We just didn’t respond.”

Lady Eagle Amanda Curtis was mostly unstoppable, slithering her way through the Beebe zone and racing past the Beebe press to score 34 points. Junior Ty O’Neill led Beebe, which finished the season 22-4, with 17 points, but other than Neshia
Upchurch’s 10 points, the Lady Badgers got little else done offensively against Vilonia’s extended 2-1-2 zone.

Vilonia wound up dealing Beebe half of its four losses this season, and the one on Tuesday was a decisive one – at least after the first seven minutes of the contest. The Lady Eagles missed their first 11 shots over the opening 6:56, then missed only nine more the rest of the way.

That cold start allowed the Lady Badgers to jump to a 9-2 lead. But Curtis began to find her stride, and Bailey Sisson scored seven points in the second period to lead Vilonia on an 18-4 run over the final 10:35 of the half and a 20-13 lead.

The Lady Badgers led 9-6 after one period, but Sisson scored on a nifty baseline scoop shot to open the second quarter. Curtis added a spinning five-foot bank and Sisson dropped in a three-pointer from the top of the circle and, just like that, Vilonia had turned a 9-2 deficit into a 13-9 lead two-and-a-half minutes into the second period.

Upchurch finally ended Vilonia’s 11-0 run by knocking down a 15-footer. But that was just a finger in the dike. Courtney McEntire hit a 12-footer on the baseline for the Lady Eagles and Curtis added a three-pointer.

Sisson’s steal and fast break bucket had Vilonia up 20-11. O’Neill hit a pull-up jumper, then had two chances to narrow the gap further. But a three-point attempt with 29 seconds left in the half rimmed out, and she missed a lay-up after a steal with five seconds left.

“The Curtis girl is a ball player,” Jackson said. “We felt we wanted to contain her and make others score. We tried [to play man] early. But she scored eight or nine points in a row on us in the post. We didn’t do a good job of doubling her, which is what we had talked about.”

Mostly, the Lady Badgers kept the others from scoring, but Curtis was all over the place, especially in the second half, when she scored 25 of her points.

The Lady Badgers struggled to find any seams in the Vilonia zone, and their impatience cost them in 18 total turnovers.

“They got out and pressured the perimeter,” Jackson said. “And they did a good job of keeping the gaps closed up as far as penetration.”

The Vilonia lead grew to as many as 13 on two Curtis free throws with 32 seconds left in the third.

But Audre Renneker knocked down a 16-footer from the left baseline to spark an 8-0 run.

O’Neill hit a runner along the baseline. Upchurch got a breakaway bucket off an Emily Bass steal, and O’Neill hit a pull-up 14 footer and, suddenly, Beebe had closed to six with 5:47 left in the game.

But Curtis answered with a three and a layup after breaking the Beebe press. The Lady Badgers turned it over two straight times, then launched an air ball, and the Lady Eagles were on their way to becoming the second consecutive fourth seed to knock off a No. 1 seed in 5A state action. The Nettleton boys upset Little Rock Christian in the second game of the afternoon.

“We got some steals and got that run, but Vilonia came right back and scored,” Jackson said of Vilonia’s 14-4 run after the Lady Badgers had whittled the lead to five. “That was the nail there.”

Vilonia hit 17 of its final 26 shots to finish 17-of-37 overall. Beebe made only 13-of-34, and missed all seven of its three-point attempts. The Lady Badgers were also out-rebounded 27-22.

O’Neill had three assists, two steals and two blocks to go along with her 17 points. Upchurch grabbed 10 rebounds. Ashley Watkins had four points, three rebounds and three steals. Emily Bass, one of five seniors who said good-bye on Tuesday, had three steals and a block.

“I told them afterwards that we can’t hang our heads,” Jackson said. “We won 22 games this year. That’s the first time that’s happened at Beebe at the high school level.

“You hope your younger players get it etched in their brains that you’ve got to be ready to go. Hopefully, we’ll be right back here again next year.”