Lady Billies’ coach wins 300th; Monticello upset by arch-rival
In a week where second-year Monticello’s Bobby Lewellan won his 300th game as a girls’ basketball head coach, there’s a strong possibility he would give a few of those victories back to avoid what happened to his Lady Billies Tuesday night at Dan Coston Field House.
Beginning a stretch where six of the seven outings remaining count toward Monticello’s seeding in the upcoming Class 4A, District 8 Tournament, the Lady Billies were upset on their home court by arch-rival Warren, 65-62. That loss put Lewallen’s charges squarely behind the 8-ball as far as the district tournament goes.
Since 8-4A was split into two Arkansas Activities Associatin “blended” conferences last year, the team with the best 8-4A record among Monticello, Warren, Hamburg and Crossett (all in 12-3A4A) will receive a No. 1 seed into the 8-4A tournament and be assured of a berth in the 4A South Region Tournament. The same goes for the top team among Star City, DeWitt, Dumas and Dollarway (all playing the regular season in 10-3A4A).
The loss dropped the hosts to 16-5 overall and to 10-2 in 12-3A4A but more importantly, left the Lady Billies looking up in 8-4A. One of the good things about high school basketball, though, is that teams don’t have time to dwell on their losses. Monticello hosts Crossett on Friday in hopes of squaring their 8-4A record.
A Saturday trip to Junction City to make up the game postponed by last week’s snow will be the last 3A opponent the Lady Billies will play in their “blended” league, then three 8-4A road trips (to Hamburg next Tuesday, to Warren on Feb. 2 and to Crossett on Feb. 6) should get Monticello refocused on the task at hand—the district tournament. Lewallen’s charges close out the regular season by hosting Hamburg on Feb. 8.
A shocking third quarter Tuesday, in which the Lady Billies could manage only six points, erased a two-point halftime lead and gave the Lady ’Jacks the mometum they needed to withstand a fourth-quarter rally by Monticello. What no doubt troubled Lewallen more that the less-than-spectular third period was the poor performance by his club at the free-throw line.
Monticello was a paltry 8-for-21 at the charity stripe during the contest, missing more than enough free throws to have salted the game away. Six of those misses came after intermission, including an 0-for-4 performance in the decisive third quarter.
“We just had too many missed opportunities,” a frustrated Lewallen said after his team fell to 16-5 overall and to 10-2 in 12-3A4A. “We had shot after shot in front of the rim and just didn’t make them. On the other end, we allowed them to get to the rim entirely too much. When they got to the rim, they made shots. The defensive effort was not there tonight.
“Add in the fact we were 8-for-21 at the free-throw line and you can’t expect to win. That is unacceptable for a high school team. Plus, we have to shoot better from the field, too—especially when you spend as much practice time as we do with shooting drills.”
The Lady Billies raced out to a 25-15 advantage at the end of eight minutes but have all but two points away when Warren went on a 19-11 run in the second period, foreshadowing the awful third quarter. The hosts rebounded somewhat in the final stanza with a 20-point performance but simply ran out of time to come all the way back.
Only five Monticello players were able to find the scoring column against Warren but four were in double figures. Senior Taylor Donald led the parade with a game-high 19 points while juniors Shania Smith and Chaney Scott followed with 13 and 12 points, respectively. Senior J’Naya Brown was the fourth Lady Billie to reach the 10-point mark, chipping in with exactly that—10 points.
Friday, when Lewallen notched his 300th coaching victory, things went the Lady Billies’ way from the opening tip. Monticello’s defense almost completely shut down McGehee before intermission with 16-4 and 23-2 explosions in the first and second periods. The 39-6 halftime deficit was too much for the once-proud Lady Owls to overcome.
“During the week of bad weather, we still had practice every day,” Lewallen said. “I think those practices really helped us. Our intensity level was much better those days and it seemed to carry over into the game. We had good balance in the scoring column and that make us harder to guard. Hopefully a team can’t just focus on stopping one player, they’ll have to guard all of us.”
Then, when the Lady Billies dominated the third quarter as well, outscoring McGehee 11-6, the entire fourth period was played with a running clock, thanks to the AAA’s sportsmanship rule. Monticello simply coasted to its coach’s milestone victory.
Senior Mariah Austin paced four Lady Billies in double figures against McGehee with 15 points. Smith added 12, and Donald and junior Chaney Scott chipped in with 10 points each.
“I guess it means I’m getting older and I’ve had a lot of good players,” Lewallan chuckled about winning No. 300. “When I started coaching basketball I never really thought about a certain number of wins or my career numbers.
“It’s just always been about getting the kids to play hard—not just play hard but work hard, too. We might not always have more talent but make up for it by working harder.
“I think that’s how I’ve made it to 300 (coaching wins). Over the years, the players have bought in to making the games fast and intense. But to me, it’s not about how many we’ve won, it’s about winning the next game. I feel very fortunate to have worked with some very bright, talented and hard-working players.”
Lewallen, who won 254 of those games at East Poinsett County in Lepanto, guided EPC to four 2A final fours and three appearances in the state championship game. His Lady Warriors’ clubs won seven conference championships and made it to 10 district title contests.
He carried that tradition south to Monticello, where in his first season last year the Lady Billies posted a school-record 30 wins, were the 8-4A runners-up to Star City and played their way into the state semifinals—further than any Monticello team had ever advanced in 4A.
Despite the loss to Warren, Lewallen has the Lady Billies poised to duplicate that success in 2017-18.
* at Monticello
^ through Jan. 23