SPORTS>>Lady Lions pull off upset
Leader sports editor
They may be mostly sophomores and juniors but nobody told them they’re supposed to be nervous. Even when playing the defending 7A state champions.
The Searcy Lady Lions overcame a poor shooting night by turning up the defensive pressure and captured the Searcy Bank Classic championship on Saturday night at the Lions’ Den with a dramatic 40-38 win over Conway, which won the 7A state title in March.
Lauren Harrison’s three from the top of the key crawled in with 1:10 left to break a 36-36 tie and the Lady Lions withstood one final Conway attempt in the final seconds to improve to 7-2.
“That was a really big win,” said Searcy head coach Michelle Birdsong. “I think that really helps our confidence because that was the first pressure we faced since (injured senior point guard Shantel Neely) went down.”
Harrison, Searcy’s sensational junior post player, got off to a slow start against Conway’s big, imposing Na’Dra Robertson, rushing her shots inside. But she settled in in the second half to score nine of her team-high 14 points.
“That’s kind of tough when you turn around and see that big girl standing there,” Birdsong said. “We tried to get her to try to drive around her.”
The sophomore trio of Chelsey Butler, Elliott Scarbrough and Lindsey Hanshew seemed unfazed by the competition on Saturday. Butler came off the bench to grab 10 rebounds and score seven points. She also dished out four assists, grabbed three steals and blocked a pair of shots.
She, along with junior Kristen Celsor, led a furious ball-hawk attack by the Lady Lions in the second half, when Searcy collected 10 of its 14 steals. Celsor had five steals, while Harrison and Hanshew had two each.
“I’m really excited about our sophomores because I have them for two more years,” Birdsong said. “Lindsey didn’t play point for us last year. Elliott did, and we changed their roles and both have done everything we asked them to do.”
Neither team lead by more than five points. Searcy took a 32-31 lead into the final period when Scarbrough hit a 14-footer along the baseline at the buzzer. Caleigh Woodruff opened the fourth quarter hitting a difficult runner in the lane, and a fast-break basket by Celsor off a long pass from Scarbrough put Searcy up 36-31 midway though the final period. The Lady Lions never trailed again, though Conway tied it with a three pointer and a runner in the lane by Taylor Gault with 1:30 left.
Celsor missed a go-ahead lay-up at the other end, but got a steal off the rebound, leading to Harrison’s game-winning three with 1:10 left. Meghan Lewis drew the Lady ’Cats to within a point with a rebound basket with 35 seconds left.
Hanshew went to the line for a one-and-one with 15 seconds remaining and made the first one to make it a two-point game.
A lane violation on the second toss left the lead at 40-38, but Celsor knocked the ball away at the other end and Harrison picked it up with 8.8 seconds left. She missed the front end of a one-and-one and Conway raced down court with a chance to tie.
Gault slipped in the lane, the ball came free and Harrison grabbed it as time expired.
“We really did a good job in the second half,” Birdsong said. “We went to the boards more and played better defense. We’re so long with Kristen at the top of our (1-3-1) zone that we’re able to spread out. And Chelsey is just extremely athletic.”
Conway scored the first four points of the game, but two baskets by Celsor, two Harrison free throws and a Scarbrough three gave Searcy a 9-7 lead after one period. The Lady Lions trailed 16-15 at the half.
Searcy made only 5 of 26 in the first half and warmed up only marginally in the second half to finish 13 of 47 from the field, 4 of 13 from beyond the arc. The Lady Lions turned it over only 12 times, while forcing Conway into 17 turnovers and 15 of 45 shooting.
Searcy travels to Lake Hamilton on Friday.