Lady Billies another step closer to title
Facing nemesis Star City for the second time in a week, Monticello had only to best the Lady Bulldogs to win the Class 4A South Region Tournament at Dan Coston Field House Saturday and enter the 4A State Championships as the top seed from 4A South.
Easier said than done but the Lady Billies accomplished exorcised that Star City demon again with a hard-fought if not improbable 47-45 victory. Monticello had gotten past the Lady Bulldogs 60-52 in the semifinals of the 4A, District 8 tournament en route to a conference championship a week prior.
With the regional title, the Lady Billies earned a first-round bye in the state tournament. Monticello will face the winner of the Lonoke-Pottsville game at 7 p.m. Thursday at Brookland. The Jackrabbits and Apaches will play for the right to meet the now 26-6 Lady Billies at 4 p.m. today.
Unlike last season, Monticello will have to play just two games in 2018 to go where no Lady Billie team has gone before in 4A—the state championship game in Hot Springs.
After starters Mariah Austin and Chaney Scott head-butted each other in the third quarter and were both taken to the hospital to receive stitches—and another starter, Taylor Donald, fouled out two possessions later—Monticello looked completely vulnerable against Star City in the 4A South title game. But season-year head coach Bobby Lewallen’s charges hung together and surprised everyone in the field house by themselves.
“We finished the third and fourth quarters without six of our players we started the season with,” Lewallen said. “The girls kept on fighting, kept on scrapping to hang on to the win.”
Monticello could not get going in the first quarter of play, being held to seven points in the quarter. The Lady Billies, though, were able to hold Star City under double-digit points as well in the quarter, trailing by only one point after eight minutes, 8-7. Monticello gained a better advantage towards the end of the second quarter after a one-point lead turned into a four-point advantage as Shania Smith connected on a three-pointer to end the half.
Monticello continued to build on their second-quarter momentum, pushing the lead to just under 10 points, but the Lady Billies found themselves in trouble as Donald collected her fourth foul of the game, placing her on the bench for most of the quarter. Things got worse for Monticello as with a little over a few minutes remaining in the quarter after Scott and Austin collided heads and had to escorted off the floor. Neither played would return to the contest.
After a brief delay to clean the floor, and to give both teams a chance to have a couple of minutes to shoot around to get warmed back up, play resumed with Star City on the charity stripe trailing by seven points.
The momentum started to swing in the Lady Bulldogs’ favor after Donald was called for her fifth and final foul with seconds remaining in the third period. Monticello also received a technical foul on top of Donald’s personal foul. Star City converted on three of four free throws. At the end of the third quarter, Monticello held onto a slim 30-28 lead.
With momentum on Star City’s side, Smith was able to get a pause in the swing connecting with a three-point shot. Smith’s offense picked up throughout the quarter as she scored 14 of her 20 points in the final quarter. Both teams scored 17 points in the quarter, but it was the play by Smith, along with two points from Jayviona Parks and a free throw by J’Naya Brown that allowed the Lady Billies to get the
victory on the scoreboard. Astyn Ingram also contributed defensively as she was able to get Star City to turn over possession on a charge call at the end of the quarter that helped to seal the win.
Austin followed Smith on Monticello scoring charts with 11 points. Brown added seven, Scott five, and Donald and Parks rounded out the scoring with two points each.
To reach the regional championship, Monticello had to get through Mena and Ashdown, two 7-4A schools that were no slouches. Against Mena in the first 4A South contest last Thursday, both teams were competitive with Monticello gaining the edge by two points, 11-9, after one quarter of play. The Lady Billies put a little more distance by the half, outscoring Mena 17-11 in the second quarter to take an eight-point lead into the locker room at intermission.
After the half, Monticello was able to take control of the game by scoring 16 points in the third quarter while holding Mena to five points in the quarter to take a 44-25 lead into the final quarter of play.
Mena stuck with Monticello in the fourth quarter but the Lady Billies were able to keep pace, stopping Mena from making a run. The Lady Billies scored 14 points in the quarter, outscoring Mena by a single point to take a 58-38 victory and advance in the tournament, securing a spot in the 4A State Championships.
Smith led the way for Monticello with 17 points, followed by Austin with 12. Scott scored 10 points, Donald six and Brown five.
With the win, Monticello advanced to play Ashdown last Friday. Ashdown advanced in the tournament by defeating Dumas 55-50. Also advancing in the first round, Star City defeated Bauxite by a score of 46-24 and Warren defeated Arkadelphia 53-36.
Facing Ashdown in semifinal action, the Lady Billies and the Lady Panthers battled to a draw in the first quarter of action as each team scored 17 points. Things remained even in the second quarter as Monticello was able to gain a one-point advantage, 27-26 at the half.
The game remained close in the third quarter, but Monticello was able to extend their lead to five points after outscoring Ashdown 14-10 to give the Lady Billies a 41-36 advantage to begin the final quarter.
The Lady Panthers charged back in the fourth quarter out scoring Monticello 15-12, but the Lady Billies were able to maintain the lead to escape with a two-point, 53-51 win.
Smith again led Monticello with 18 points, Smith scored 11 and Austin scored 10. Donald finished with eight, and Brown rounded out the scoring with six points.
With that victory, Monticello advanced to the regional championship to face Star City. The Lady Bulldogs defeated Warren 57-28 to advance to the final round. With the loss, Ashdown dropped to the third-place game face Warren. The Lady ’Jacks took the 4A South No. 3 seed with a 60-41 win.