Tuesday, March 10, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> VV Blazers too big, physical for Beebe

Leader sports editor

PARAGOULD – Beebe coach Greg Richey knew his team got a tough state tournament draw as the No. 2 seed from the 5A-Central Conference, but didn’t expect his team to struggle quite like it did in a 57-40 loss to 5A-East three seed Valley View on Sunday at Greene County Tech High School.

Valley View is widely regarded as the best team in the East when at full strength, but suffered injuries that cost it wins during the regular season, including one to Beebe in early December at Badger Arena, before the Lady Badgers lost two starters to season-ending injuries.

The Lady Badgers, however, caught the Lady Blazers at full strength and playing a throw-away defense designed to hound Beebe point guard Taylor McGraw and take her out of the offense. McGraw was banged around the entire game, but Beebe coach Greg Richey wasn’t making any excuses.

“The East is a much more physical conference than the Central, and we didn’t adjust very well,” said Richey. “The East coaches all pretty much agree that when they’re at their best, they’re probably the best team in the East. They beat (conference champion) Greene County Tech two out of three, and beat them by 26 one time. Unfortunately for us, we caught them at full strength and playing very well. They just played a better game than we did.”

On the other end of the floor Valley View’s size was too much for the injury-riddled and small Lady Badgers. The Lady Blazers started three players taller than any starting Lady Badger. Six footers Allegra Melton and Amanda Meister dominated the boards while 5-10 forward Ashleigh Guthrie was hitting from inside and out, and finished with 29 points.

The Lady Blazers started hot, with all five starters scoring at least one basket. Conversely, only two Beebe starters made baskets in the first quarter and the Lady Blazers jumped out to an 18-8 lead.

Beebe’s Hannah McGhee came off the bench and scored before the buzzer to cut Valley View’s margin to eight points by the start of the second period.

Beebe’s 6-foot-2 center Gracie Anders came off the bench to provide defensive help inside, but Beebe still struggled offensively with McGraw wearing Valley View’s Anna Reddell every step she took. The result was a 9-8 quarter and Valley View taking a 27-18 lead into halftime.

The second half was all Guthrie and Valley View. Guthrie scored 22 of her 29 points in the second half, including 14 in the third period. Melton added six more for VVHS in the third and the Lady Blazers stretched their lead to 47-27. The margin grew to as much as 28 but Beebe closed the game with an 11-0 run over the last two minutes.

Melton finished with 12 for Valley View while Meister and Harleigh Jones scored seven each for the Lady Blazers, who improved to 20-8.

Beebe got 14 from Ashlyn Johnson and McGraw still ended up with 10 points for the Lady Badgers, who finish the year with a 14-13 record.

Despite the fact that this was Beebe’s fourth-straight year in the state tournament, more than half of this year’s Lady Badgers had never played in the playoffs. Richey sees it as reason for optimism about the future.

“I think when you consider everything this team has been through, they did a remarkable job to finish as the two seed and make it to the postseason for the fourth-straight year,” Richey said. “I’m looking forward to making another run and being even better next year.”