Lady Bulldogs make first trip to state title game
By Chuck Livingston Sports Editor
MARMADUKE — For some people, the number 13 is considered to be unlucky. For the Earle Lady Bulldogs, that figure fits them just fine. Earle (29-7 overall) won its 13th straight game on Saturday afternoon at Chester Barner Sr. Gym at Marmaduke High School in the Class 2A semifinals. Earle defeated 2015 Class 2A runner-up England 72-64 to advance to the first state final in the school’s history. Earle will play Hector (25-10 overall) in the 2016 Class 2A state title game on Thursday afternoon at 5:15 p.m. That game will be played at the Bank of the Ozarks Arena in Hot Springs. The Lady Bulldogs got game-high totals of 30 points and 16 rebounds from freshman guard Roshala Scott, while Aundrea Allen scored 10 points, as did Takila Baker, who also posted a double-double with 13 rebounds. Earle bolted out to a 41-26 halftime lead, but had to hold on down the stretch. On three occasions in the fourth quarter, the Lady Lions worked to within two points, and another time they got within three points. However, Allen and Scott teamed up to hit nine of 12 free throws in the last 2:08 to keep England at bay. “I called timeout and we talked about it and we knew that we needed to get back to doing what we did to get the lead,” said third-year Earle head coach Corey Garrett. “The girls settled down and we made enough plays in the end to get the win.” Prior to the game, the popular opinion was that England’s state tournament experience may benefit it against a green Earle team, but that wasn’t the case. Earle led 17-11 after the first quarter, a frame in which they forced eight England turnovers. The Lady Bulldogs kept the pedal to the metal in the second, taking its first double-digit lead on a lay-up by Allen. However, Allen also went down with an injury on the play and didn’t re-enter the game until the third quarter. Earle led 36-26 late in the second quarter, but Scott scored on a runner with 14.3 in the half and then ripped off a steal at halfcourt and pushed the ball before finding Veronique Sanders for a buzzer-beating three-pointer right in front of the England bench that armed the Lady Bulldogs with that 41-26 halftime lead. “The girls were ready to play. They said it all week, and they showed it in the first half,” Garrett explained. “Second half, we kind of slacked up, made a few errors, but with this team, all year long we just kept fighting and fighting and fighting and now we’re headed to Hot Springs.” One reason for the England rally after halftime was the play of Alesha Penister. Penister scored 20 of her team-high 28 points in the second half, marked by 11 in the third period alone, and England had clawed to within seven points entering the fourth quarter at 51-44. “I think we all expected them to make a run,” Garrett said. “We knew we were playing a good ball team, a team that was in the finals last year. I told them at halftime that they’d make a run, they weren’t gonna give it to us, that we needed to take it.” Also in the third quarter, Scott, who never left the court, was seen tugging on her shorts between plays, indicating to some that she may have been tired. “I was driven. I was ready,” Scott said when asked if she ever got tired. That set the scene for a shootout in the game’s final quarter. Penister scored on a lay-up with 2:10 left in regulation to get England within 60-58, but Scott would respond by sinking a pair of free throws two seconds later. Penister hit a pair of free throws of her own with 1:38 left and the Earle lead was back to two points at 62-60. Scott would respond with a runner in the lane seven seconds later for a 64-60 lead. Penister got England back within two with a stickback and 1:15 on the clock. With 49.5 left, Allen hit two free throws for a 66-62 lead. Scott would come up with a steal on England’s following possession and would draw an intentional foul from the Lady Lions. She would hit one of two with 34.7 left. A Julia Bryant lay-up would get England with three at 67-64, which set Allen up for two more big free throw makes for a 69-64 lead and 26.6 left. “Those were huge makes,” said Garrett of his senior guard. “Aundrea wanted the ball. We gave it to her and she stepped up and made them.” Garrett wasn’t the only person excited about the trip to the finals, however. “I’m really pumped up right now. All I want is to win. I want that ring,” Scott said with a big smile on her face. In addition to Penister’s 28 points, Tatayana Penister’s hit for 16 points and Shavonta Blanks added nine for England.