Sophomore Marisa Johnson poured in 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as the Riverside Lady Rebels pulled off the biggest upset of the Northeast Arkansas Invitational Tournament(s A-AA girls division, knocking off the defending champion Bay Lady Yellowjackets with a thrilling 60-57 victory Monday night at the Arkansas State University Convocation Center in Jonesboro.
The Lady Rebels got off to a slow start as they watched the third seeded Jackets jump to a 15-6 lead, before rallying with a 9-2 run to close the first quarter, cutting the Bay lead to 17-15. Riverside then opened the second quarter by scoring the first four points to grab a 19-17 lead as Johnson used her height to dominate from the inside.
Riverside stretched their lead to 27-23 by halftime, as Johnson scored 13 of her points by intermission, giving the Lady Rebels the momentum entering the third quarter.
Bay bounced back in the third period, and outscored Riverside 19-15 to forge a 42-42 tie entering the final frame before Riverside hit 10-11 free throws in the final quarter to secure the upset. Amanda Milligan went 8-8 from the charity stripe in the final frame and was 11-12 for the game as the senior point guard finished with 15 points and six assists.
With Riverside trailing 56-54 in the closing minutes, Johnson sank a five foot bank shot to tie the game and, after a Yellowjacket turnover, Milligan added another score and the Rebels led 58-56 with under a minute to play.
Bay all-conference point guard Amber McMasters had a chance to tie the game as she was fouled, sending her to shoot two free throws, but the senior missed the first attempt before sinking the second, leaving Bay with a one point deficit, 58-57 with three seconds remaining. On the inbounds play, Bay was forced to foul Milligan, who calmly sank both her free throws, giving the Rebels a 60-57 lead with 2.7 seconds to play. McMasters, who led Bay with 20 points, tried a desperation shot at the buzzer which fell short, sending the defending champions home and advancing the Rebels to the quarter-final round against Piggott.
"We did a good job of keeping our composure, even when we turned it over three or four times there in the second half," said Riverside Coach Greg Rainwater. "A lot of times this year that is when we would have folded, but this time we didn't. I was extremely proud of our kids. They showed some real guts tonight. Bay is as good a team in our area as there is, so this was a huge win for us. Johnson (Marisa) blocked shots, altered shots, and really disrupted Bay's inside game. Sam Dunigan and Amanda Milligan did a good job of getting her the ball, and she did an excellent job of finishing. I thought Natasha Coffey did an excellent job on Amy Ballew, while both Miranda Boyd and Audrey Booth stifled Jessica McMasters most of the night. Both those girls are excellent three point shooters, but we didn't let them get any good looks."
Coffey added nine points for the Lady Rebels, Boyd scored six, Dunigan had three, while Booth and Ashley Foster finished with two points each to round out the Rebel offense. Despite not connecting on any three point attempts, the Rebels were deadly from the free throw line, hitting 20-27 on the night. Riverside shot a blistering 50% from the field, going 20-40, which included 9-16 in the second half. With the win, the Lady Rebels improved to 10-8 on the year.
"Most of our problems were we just couldn't hit a shot. We just didn't get adjusted to these baskets up here. We were flat footed on defense, and I just thought Riverside outplayed us," said disappointed Bay Coach Bob Harpole.
Aiding McMasters in scoring for the Jackets was Lee Davis who netted 10 points before fouling out. Amy Ballew scored eight, while Emily McDaniel added seven as the Jackets saws their record drop to 14-3 on the year. Bay struggled from the field, hitting only 19-54, while they were even worse from beyond the three point line, hitting only 2-13. Bay also went to the free throw line 27 times, but could only make good on 16 attempts.
Riverside's bid for an NEA title evaporated in the quarter-finals as Piggott rallied for a 48-45 victory. Riverside led early and finished the first quarter leading 15-10. The Lady Mohawks closed to within two, 21-19, by halftime.
The game turned on the Lady Rebels in the third quarter, as Riverside went ice cold from the field, enabling Piggott to outscore Riverside 15-5 to take a 34-26 lead entering the final frame.
Riverside rallied in the final period and pulled within one point, 46-45, with 7.7 seconds left in the game, but Piggott's Heather Bricker hit two pressure packed free throws, and Riverside's desperation attempt fell well short as the Lady Mohawks advanced to the semi-finals while the Lady Rebels saw their season record fall to 10-9.
"We had a pretty good tournament," said Riverside Coach Greg Rainwater. "We won two games, including one of our best efforts of the year in the Bay game. I was really proud of our kids' performance. They showed a lot of heart. Everyone played well. We just fell a little short against a very good Piggott team. Unfortunately, we went ice cold in the third quarter of that game. If we could take away any two minutes of that third quarter, I think we would have won the game. We won 30 minutes of the game, but you can't score just five points in a quarter and beat a team as good as Piggott. Coleman (Ashley) just lit us up and she is only a sophomore. But all in all, we had a real good tournament even though we feel like we let one get away against Piggott."
The Lady Rebels placed two players in double figures against Piggott as Ashley Foster and Marisa Johnson both scored 12 points each. Johnson also snared 11 rebounds, the second straight game in which she produced a double-double. Natasha Coffey had eight, Sam Dunigan scored six points and grabbed nine rebounds, Audrey Booth chipped in five, while Miranda Boyd rounded out the Rebel scoring with two points.
Riverside hit two three pointers on the night while going 11-14 from the charity stripe. Piggott was 8-14 from the charity stripe while connecting on four treys.
Riverside placed three players on the all-tournament team. Senior Amanda Milligan, junior Sam Dunigan, and sophomore Marisa Johnson were all named to the A-AA tournament team.
The Lady Rebels will return to action as they face Crowley's Ridge Academy in non-conference action Monday night at Lake City. Riverside will then travel to Bay Thursday night in a re-match against the Lady Jackets.