Buffalo Island used the momentum of their semi-final victory over Marmaduke to build a 42-32 halftime lead against East Poinsett County in Saturday night's Region 4 Championship game at Earle. But led by the Madden sisters, the Lady Warriors rallied in the second half and came away with a thrilling 76-74 overtime win to claim the regional title.
East Poinsett County rallied from a 10 point halftime deficit, outscoring BIC 18-6 in the third quarter to take a 50-48 lead heading into the final period. The Lady Warriors charged back behind the scoring of Jordan and Sade Madden, who finished the night with 27 points apiece.
Lady Mustang senior captain Nan Lee Bridges knotted the score at 50-50 to start the fourth quarter. The two teams would swap the lead back and forth until Bridges drove for a lay-up to tie the score at 57-57 with 4:45 left in the regulation. The Lady Warriors reeled off the next seven points to take a 64-57 lead with 2:55 remaining.
BIC refused to quit as Lauryn Smith started a Lady Mustang comeback with a three pointer to make the score 64-60. After a free throw by Sade Madden put EPC up 65-60 with 1:25 left, Jessica Shepard, who led all scorers with 31 points, ripped a three pointer to pull BIC to within 65-63 at the 1:16 mark.
The Lady Warriors, who struggled from the free throw line the entire game, managed only a 4-11 performance in the final period, including four straight misses, which gave the Lady Mustangs a chance to pull even. Bridges tied the score with a 10-foot jumper with 20.1 seconds left but EPC had once last chance to win the game in regulation. Lady Warrior Alisha Gilmer missed two shots as time expired, sending the game into overtime.
With EPC holding a 68-65 edge in the overtime period, Jessica Shepard drained a three pointer to tie the score at 68-68 with 2:31 to play. But 10 seconds later, Shepard was whistled for her fifth foul, dimming the Lady Mustangs( chances for a victory. The Lady Warriors continued their free throw struggles, making only 6-13 in the overtime period. Twice the Lady Warriors took three point leads, but each time Bridges nailed three pointers, the last coming with 21.7 seconds to go, tying the score at 74-74.
The Lady Warriors worked for the final shot and Sade Madden came up with an offensive board and stick back to give EPC a 76-74 lead with six seconds to go. Bridges was fouled as she tried to advance the ball up court, and headed to the line with a chance to tie, shooting the one and one with 3.8 seconds left. But the senior uncharacteristically misfired on the front end of the one and one and EPC grabbed the rebound and ran out the clock.
Bridges joined Shepard in double digits with 24 points. Lauryn Smith had eight, Ashley Tate tallied six, while Kasey Garrett scored five.
The Lady Warriors improved to 24-1 on the year and will open State Tournament play Wednesday afternoon at 4:00 against the runner-up from the Region 1 conference. The Lady Mustangs, who dropped to 30-7, will open State Tournament action Tuesday afternoon at 4:00 against the champion from Region 1.
"We really struggled from the free throw line tonight," said EPC Coach Bobby Lewallen. "But our kids showed a lot of heart and pulled the game out at the end. I am very proud of their effort. I made a deal with Coach Kinard before the game that we would meet each other again in the State Championship. I hope it turns out that way."
"We had a little let down in the second half, and EPC, being the club they are, knew what to do," said Kinard. "They are tough mentally and are well coached. They were here in this game last year and have a little bit of a leg up on us. But there is no such thing as a perfect game. I think we learned a lot tonight and we went toe to toe with them. We had a couple of starters foul out and we were still out there battling to the very end. They shot several more free throws than we did, but it wouldn't have mattered if we've been able to get a couple of more shots to go down or got a couple more key rebounds. We are very excited about next week."
BIC and EPC both placed three players on the All-Region Tournament team. EPC was represented by the tournament's most valuable player, Sade Madden. She was joined by teammates Jordan Madden and Lauren Turner. The Lady Mustangs were represented to Jessica Shepard, Nan Lee Bridges and Kasey Garrett. Other All-Region players were Rudy Martin of Marked Tree, Jurleisa Davis of Earle, Lauren Hickson of Piggott, Brooke Smith of Marmaduke and Marisa Johnson of Riverside.