By Chuck Livingston Sports Editor
IMBODEN — Not so long ago, the Earle Lady Bulldogs were on the bubble for even qualifying for a regional tournament, let alone the state tournament. That’s no longer the case. Earle beat Riverside 47-33 in the Class 2A North regional title game at the Sloan-Hendrix basketball gym to clinch a No. 1 seed in this week’s Class 2A state tournament in Marmaduke. Earle had previously clinched its first trip to the state tournament in over 15 years with a win last Wednesday over Walnut Ridge, but the Lady Bulldogs went on to top Tuckerman in Friday’s semifinal before topping Riverview for the second time in three attempts for the top seed. The Riverside win was Earle’s 10th consecutive win, dating back to a loss to Marmaduke in Earle in early February. “We felt all along that we had a pretty good team, we just made too many little mistakes,” said Earle head coach Corey Garrett. “We’d miss some free throws, miss some lay-ups. Once we capitalized on some of that, we always felt like we’d be a tough out for anyone.” Earle still missed plenty of makeable baskets against Riverview on Saturday afternoon, making just 17 of 50 field goals, but the Lady Bulldog defense picked up the slack. Earle forced 18 Riverview turnovers and outboarded the Lady Rebels 33-27 to pull away. Earle also limited Riverview to a four of 16 showing from the field in the first half as the Lady Bulldogs hit the halftime lockers with a 25-15 lead. While the defense made the Lady Rebels run in place in the second quarter, Earle senior guard Andrea Allen gave her team a spark on offense. With Earle ahead 12-11, Allen scored 10 consecutive points to give the Lady Bulldogs their first double-digit lead of the game at 22-11 with 4:01 left in the first half. After the break, Earle limited Riverview to just four field goals in 14 attempts, while forcing eight turnovers. That allowed Earle to open up a 40-25 lead after three quarters. “This was one of the best defensive games that we’ve played,” Garrett explained. “We felt like we’d be able to defend them well and shut them down if we just moved our feet and kept our hands off. Our offense wasn’t there tonight like it has been, but every game is not gonna be your best game.” Earle (27-8 overall) got a game-high 18 points from Allen, while Tekelia Baker and freshman guard Roshala Scott hit for 10 points apiece. Baker closed out her third double-double in postseason play with 10 rebounds. Riverview got 13 points from Haven Robertson, seven from Hattie Milligan and six from Brittany Sain. State tournament notes: The regional win means that Earle will be a No. 1 seed in this season’s state basketball tournament. The Lady Bulldogs will open their run on Tuesday at 1 p.m. against Mountain Pine, the No. 4 seed from the Class 2A East regional. If Earle were to win, they would play the winner of the Foreman-Conway Christian game on Thursday, March 3 at 7 p.m. The other No. 1 seed on Earle’s side is England.