Buffalo Island Central sank 23-29 free throws, including a 12-12 performance by senior Nan Lee Bridges, as the Lady Mustangs clinched their second straight 3AA North Conference championship with a 53-39 victory over arch-rival Riverside Thursday night at Caraway.
Bridges, BIC's lone senior, calmly sank eight free throws in a row in the fourth quarter to seal the deal for the Lady Mustangs.
BIC raced to an early 12-2 lead and looked as though they might blow the game wide open, but the Lady Rebels closed the first quarter with a 7-0 run to narrow the gap to 12-9 after the first period.
Kasey Garrett started the second quarter with a three pointer and a pair of free throws to push the BIC lead back to six, 17-11. The Mustangs increased their lead to 24-14 when Ashley Tate buried a three pointer from the left corner with 2:00 to go in the half. The Rebels managed the last four points of the quarter to inch to within 23-18 at halftime.
The two teams battled on even terms in the third quarter with the turning point in the game coming at the 5:53 mark when BIC, leading by two, 26-24, came up with a loose ball following a missed free throw. Jessica Shepard, whom the Rebels corralled most of the night, was fouled, and sank two free throws to increase the BIC lead to 28-24. The Lady Mustangs came up with another loose ball after a wild scramble and Shepard drilled a three pointer and the Mustangs had a 31-24 lead at the 4:00 mark. Riverside closed the gap to 33-29 entering the final quarter.
BIC scored the first four points of the final frame and after Lady Rebel Emma Wilson cut the lead to 37-31, Garrett drove the lane, scored, was fouled, and completed the three point play by swishing the free throw to extend the Mustang lead to 40-31.
Natasha Coffey drove for two to pull Riverside to within 40-33 with 5:09 to go, but that was as close as the Lady Rebels would get.
BIC nailed 13-16 free throws in the final 4:41 to put the game away.
BIC (25-6, 12-1) was led by Bridges who scored 16 points. Garrett finished with 13 while the normally high scoring Shepard was held to 12, as the Rebels keyed on last year's 3AA North Conference Most Valuable Player. Tate chipped in eight points while Lauryn Smith scored four to cap off the BIC scoring. The Lady Mustangs finished with six three pointers on the night, three by Shepard.
Coffey paced the Rebels with 10 points while Marisa Johnson and Kelsey Turner had eight points apiece. Sam Dunigan scored four points, Audrey Booth netted three, while Kasey Davis, Emilee Hook and Emma Wilson added two points each. Riverside was 9-15 from the foul line and hit two three pointers.
"I am really proud of our team," said BIC Coach Mike Kinard. "This is our second straight conference championship. We are very happy. We really had to work hard tonight. It was a hard fought game. Fortunately, we were able to withstand Riverside's run early in the third quarter. Riverside just wasn't able to hit the key shots when they needed to, but I thought our defense had a lot to do with that. We also came up with some big loose balls and some key offensive rebounds. Obviously, I am happy with our free throw shooting, 23-29. I thought this was Tate's best defensive job of the year. She did an excellent job on Marisa Johnson, who is really hard to stop. We held Riverside to 39 points which shows how well we played defensively tonight. Nan Lee is incredible. She is so undersized when she is in the lane but she still gets the job done. She does all our dirty work. She is like having two or three players in one. She helps out defensively, gets big rebounds, and never quits hustling. But the big thing is that she plays so smart. She has carried me as a coach a long way. I thought Kasey Garret played well offensively tonight. When she plays like that we are ver hard to beat. I also thought Jessica played very well tonight. This is a tough league and you never know what will happen from night to night, so we are very glad to pick up this win."
"We did some things well tonight and we played hard," said Riverside Coach Greg Rainwater. "We held Shepard to 12 points. I thought Natasha did a great job on her tonight. We also held Nan Lee Bridges to only two baskets, but she is such a great player and she hits 12-12 from the free throw line. I really like her. She is a great team player, a hard worker and has a great attitude. If you had four or five players like her, coaching would be very easy. I also thought it hurt us not getting the ball to Johnson. But you have to give BIC credit for that. Kudos for BIC tonight. They really played well. They make it hard to find a post player sometimes."
"I am really proud of our team," said Nan Lee Bridges, "for winning our second straight conference championship. We have really been playing well as a team. Jessica and Kasey both had very good nights. Kasey really took the ball to the basket and made some good moves."
In junior high action, Riverside improved to 27-2 overall and a perfect 12-0 in conference play as the Lady Rebels rolled to a 42-10 victory over BIC.
Katey Campbell scored nine points while Briana Driver and Michelle Cobb pitched in eight apiece to lead Riverside. Morgan Emery and Kailey Holt had four points each, Holly Dudley pitched in three while Christy Ward, Magan Wells and Ashley Calvert scored two points apiece. Riverside finished 3-8 from the line and hit three treys, two by Cobb.
BIC was led by Holly Dempsey with four points. Corie Flannigan and Ashley Woods scored two points apiece while Jenna Pike and Shelby Qualls added one. BIC was 2-5 from the charity stripe.
Jessica Shepard burned the nets for 40 points, including seven three pointers, as the Lady Mustangs trampled Bay 79-43 Monday night at Bay. Nan Lee Bridges added 20 more.
Kalie Roedel scored 15 points while Jerra Ferguson and Megan Mink added 11 and 10 points respectively.
The score was tied 21-21 after the first quarter before BIC pulled to a 48-37 halftime lead. The Lady Mustangs outscored Bay 31-6 in the second half to roll to the victory.
In the junior high game, Bay defeated BIC 51-23.
BIC will return to action Monday night when they travel to Marmaduke to face the Lady Greyhounds in a 3AA North Conference match-up between the league's top two teams. BIC will play host to Earle at the Monette Athletic Complex in a Friday night non-conference game.