SPORTS>>Lady Badgers sink charities in first-round win
Leader sports editor
The Beebe Lady Badgers found themselves in more of a battle than they had probably bargained for when they opened the Christmas Classic against Harding Academy on Saturday night.
The Lady Wildcats got inside against the taller Lady Badgers to take leads of 11-6 and 14-10. But Beebe finally turned up the defensive pressure, knocked down 20 of 23 free throws and eventually pulled away for a 53-46 win.
“(Beebe coach Lora Jackson) and I both agreed it looked like a game right out of Christmas break,” said Harding Academy head coach Rusty Garner. “The focus was not very sharp, the intensity was poor. I thought we outplayed them in a lot of ways, but two monster things like free throws and rebounds made the difference.”
Beebe’s two guards, Ty O’Neill with 11 boards and Sha Jackson with nine, nearly out-rebounded the entire Harding Academy team as the Lady Badgers finished with a 33-24 advantage. O’Neill also scored 21 points and snagged three steals.
“We outrebounded their guards by four,” Garner said. “Let’s not even get into their big people. If their guards are going to have 20 rebounds, we’re in trouble.”
It was Beebe that was in trouble in the early going as point guard Taylor Mote hit a pair of three-pointers and Ariel English and Anna Bangs each scored twice inside and the Lady Wildcats led 14-10 after one quarter.
Beebe got untracked early in the second period to reel off nine consecutive points and never trailed again.
Molly Koch’s drive and dish to Megan Pack got Harding Academy to within three, but Audre Renneker hit a momentum-killing
three in the final minute to give Beebe a 23-17 lead at intermission.
“Once Beebe took control, they never gave it back,” Garner said. “We were fighting the rest of the night.”
But the 3A Lady Wildcats did keep fighting, even when O’Neill’s spin basket in the lane pushed the lead to 27-19 midway through the third period.
Three-pointers by McKenzie Miller and Mote over a 21-second span drew the Academy to within two at the 5:10 mark, but O’Neill hit a tough pull-up 8-footer and Beebe got three straight rebound baskets — two by Jackson — to take a 35-30 lead after three.
Harding Academy’s final gasp came on Miller’s three from the left wing 15 seconds into the final period that narrowed the deficit to 35-33.
“Then Beebe comes down and takes a bad shot, got the rebound and got fouled,” Garner said.
Amanda Wheeler hit both free throws and O’Neill scored six consecutive points. Another rebound bucket and free throw by Jackson surged the Beebe lead to 46-33 with 3:04 left.
“We needed a stop and we were trying to force the issue,” Garner said. “Ty misses a tough shot but (Jackson) comes flying in and sticks it back. That just killed us.”
Even down 13, Harding Academy wasn’t quite dead. Koch and English scored and Miller got a steal and lay-up to bring the deficit to 46-39 with 1:43 left. Miller hit another three-pointer to answer O’Neill’s two free throws to narrow the gap to six.
But Beebe hit its final four charities — 10 of 11 in the fourth period — to preserve the victory.
“We felt like we could come in here and compete,” Garner said. “But I thought Beebe did a great job of keeping us from getting anything on the inside and keeping us from getting any penetration.
“Their size bothered us. We couldn’t pass with any rhythm because they’re so long. Rhythm is good for shooting and good for movement and we just couldn’t get any.”
Beebe overcame its 1-of-9 performance from beyond the arc with its torrid free-throw shooting, while Harding Academy, which shot a respectable 17 of 39 from the field and 6 of 15 from three, made only 6 of 14 from the stripe.
Beebe used 11 steals to force 17 Lady Wildcat turnovers. Bree Fuller didn’t score but played havoc all night with four steals.
O’Neill was the only Lady Badger in double figures. Renneker added seven points and two steals, while Jackson had six points to go with her nine boards.
Mote led Harding Academy with 12 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals. Miller had 11 points, all in the second half. English and Anna Bangs added nine apiece.