SPORTS >> Harding Academy stands tall in win
By JASON KING
Old number 12 would have been proud.
The Harding Academy Lady Wildcats responded to the pressure of a packed house and an emotional jersey-retirement ceremony and beat cross-town and 2-3A Conference rival Riverview 50-26 on Friday night at Harris Gym.
Lady Wildcat coaches Rusty Garner and assistant Darren Matthews presented the jersey of former player Micah Rine-Pate to be retired after the game.
Pate’s No. 12 jersey will no longer be worn by any Lady Wildcats basketball player. It was the first such jersey retirement in the school’s 86-year history.
The Lady Wildcats (12-5, 6-1) had difficulty establishing their inside game early on despite an overwhelming size advantage, but once the Lady Raiders’ early adrenaline wore off, Harding Academy took control and outscored Riverview 15-2 in the final period.
“Every time we get together it’s ugly, and the kids play hard against each other,” Harding Academy coach Rusty Garner said.
“That one was as ugly as they come. We’re fortunate that we were able to get a 20-point win in an ugly game against a rival. We’ll sure take it.”
Riverview guards Ashanti Baker and Queen Banks helped the Lady Raiders (2-7, 2-4) hold the lead for most of the first quarter, but both got in foul trouble as the second half progressed. Baker picked up her fifth foul with 3:56 left to play, but Banks was able to avoid fouling out.
“Our girls played really hard,” Riverview coach Russell Stumpenhous said. “They outsized us at almost every position and that’s really hard to account for in a game. I thought they played their hearts out. They hustled so well. If a few shots fall a little different in the third quarter, it’s a different game.”
There was little contribution inside from Harding Academy posts Megan Pack and Ariel English in the first half, but both began to take more shots to begin the third quarter. Pack established the inside game in the third quarter with a basket with 5:37 left to give the Lady Wildcats a 23-16 lead before closing the period with a free throw that made it 35-24.
“They did a good job of keeping the post game out of it,” Garner said. “We did a bad job of forcing the issue with the post too early in our possessions. Second half, I felt like we kind of wore on them and got them in some foul trouble. We were able to keep going to the inside.
“We were more patient in our attempt to get it into the inside. I thought post play was probably the difference in the ballgame.”
English hit three of four free throws early in the fourth quarter after drawing contact on shot attempts and finally got a shot to fall with 4:35 left to give the Lady Wildcats a 44-24 lead.
“It’s hard to guard someone who outweighs you 60 for that long,” Stumpenhous said. “I’m trying to get them to guard them for about three seconds and hopefully our guard pressure will eliminate that option. But if they stay with it, that’s a hard guard for somebody that outweighed.
“Give Harding Academy credit, they did exactly what they needed to do; he did exactly what I would have done if I had his team.”
Harding Academy relied heavily on the perimeter play of standout Anna Bangs in the first half, and Bangs continued to attack in the third quarter even as the inside game began to gel.
Bangs hit a baseline runner with 3:37 left in the third quarter to extend the Lady Wildcats’ lead to 27-18, and she got a steal and another basket with 32 seconds left in the period to make it 34-22. Bangs went on to lead all scorers with 14 points, while Pack scored nine and English and point guard Molly Koch scored seven each.
“Our kids felt a lot of pressure to perform well tonight under the circumstances,” Garner said. “We felt like we just had to win tonight. I hate that pressure was on them, but they responded in the second half. We tried to get them to relax a little bit.”
Baker led the Lady Raiders with 12 points and Banks added six.