Tuesday, December 27, 2011

SPORTS >> Beebe takes title from Lady Bombers

Leader sportswriter

To those needing hardware for verification, it is now official: the Beebe Lady Badgers are for real.

The Lady Badgers wrapped up the championship in the Battle at the Brier basketball tournament with a thrilling 33-31 victory over a defensively tough Mountain Home team in the title game Friday at Panther Pavilion in Greenbrier.

Beebe (7-2) got down as far as 22-17 late in the third quarter of the defensive struggle before clawing its way back midway through the final period to set the stage for a dramatic finish.

Junior guard Jamie Jackson solidified her place as tournament MVP for Beebe with 19 points, four steals and four rebounds, including a steal and layup with 1:08 left to play that broke a 31-31 tie and gave the Lady Badgers their first tournament championship since winning their own Christmas Classic tourney three years ago.

“You live for those games like that,” Lady Badgers coach Greg Richey said. “That makes your team better when you win close games like that. And I was proud of our girls.”

Jackson dazzled offensively, but it was the tough inside defensive work of 6-3 sophomore post player Angelina Williams that held Mountain Home’s Katie Kapler in check with just six points and 10 rebounds, a three-day tournament low for the dynamic junior post player.

“That was our game plan going in was to play behind,” Richey said. “We typically try to front the post, but tonight we wanted to play behind, and I told her ‘just make the girl try to shoot over you, and we’ll see what happens.’ She struggled all night, so that part worked out pretty well, and she did a good job of staying at home and not getting fouls. She had a good defensive effort inside.”

Jackson’s claim of MVP received a serious challenge from Mountain Home senior guard Anna Floyd, who led the Lady Bombers with 16 points. Floyd proved to be just as dangerous a threat as Jackson. The two battled to make plays in the final two minutes of a close game that was tied at 31 with just over a minute remaining.

“It was really tough for all of us, but we found a way to manage though it,” Jackson said. “I mean, I know we got down a little bit. We were nervous when they got up, but we had to pull our way out of it and work as a team to get there.”

The most nerve-racking moment for Jackson and the Lady Badgers came with 2:15 remaining in the third quarter when she picked up her fourth personal foul. Jackson went to the locker room at halftime with three fouls, but did not ease up on the intensity in the third as she continued to put defensive pressure on Floyd.

“I was really nervous,” Jackson said. “But I knew I had to do it. I couldn’t let my team down.”

The decisive momentum shift happened with 3:58 remaining when Beebe sophomore guard Kalela Miller stole the ball from Briana Leonard at midcourt and scored on a quick lay up to tie the game at 26-26. The Lady Bombers then had senior guard Bailey Crider take the ball down on their next trip, but Miller swiped the ball from her and repeated with another easy look under the basket to give Beebe its first lead of the second half.

Senior Sarah White scored the first points of the fourth quarter with a pair of free throws at the 5:43 mark to tie the game at 22 for her only points. As the Lady Badgers’ only starting senior and team captain, leadership proved to be White’s most valuable asset during the three-day tournament.

“She’s one of our senior leaders,” Richey said. “She’s our team captain, and Sarah will make a play. She’ll get a big rebound, and she went to the line tonight and hit two big free throws there late in the game. She’s not afraid of it. She’ll get out there and compete, and that’s what you look for in your seniors.”

Mountain Home (4-5) led 22-17 with 16 seconds remaining in the third quarter when Williams stunned the Lady Bombers with a three-point basket beyond the top of the key to cut the lead to 22-20. Williams had been playing out on several of Beebe’s third-quarter possessions before pulling the trigger. Williams finished with eight points for the Lady Badgers.

Floyd put up one last three-point attempt in the final six seconds, but the shot was off the mark, and the scramble for the loose ball ate up the remainder of the clock.

“We beat a very good team tonight,” Richey said. “Mountain Home is typically one of the top teams in the state of Arkansas in girls basketball, and we’re trying to climb up there. And for us to beat a team like that, it really is big for the girls.”

The Lady Badgers will open their own Christmas Classic tournament at 7 p.m. today against Des Arc.