Town Crier Sports Staff
After a pair of hard-fought games against Weiner and Rector in the NEA Tournament, the Buffalo Island Central Lady Mustangs may have felt it was time for a change in their meeting with the Lady Screamin' Eagles of Hillcrest on Wednesday.
That change came in the form of a 64-34 blowout victory, as the Lady Mustangs claimed the A-AA tournament crown in front of a large crowd at the Arkansas State University Convocation Center in Jonesboro.
At first, it appeared as though Hillcrest might pose a threat to BIC, as the Lady Screamin' Eagles hurried out to a 3-0 lead in the game's opening minute, connecting on three of four free throw attempts.
Such thoughts were quickly banished, however, as the Lady Mustangs would outscore their foe 20-5 over the remainder of the quarter.
The turnaround began with a 15-foot jumper by Sammi Fowler at the 6:17 mark of the opening stanza. Over the next two minutes of play, Lauryn Smith struck in the post while Jessica Shepard canned two free throws and Kasey Garrett buried a three-pointer from the left wing and added two more points at the charity stripe as BIC closed out an 11-0 run which would set the tone for the game's remainder.
A 10-0 run by BIC just over a minute into the second quarter sent Hillcrest reeling.
The Lady Mustangs' defense wreaked havoc on the night, as Hillcrest was unable to get much going on the offensive end. Garrett and Sammi Fowler were particularly effective on the defensive end. Garrett's four steals, three of which came during the BIC first quarter run, transitioned into easy baskets. Fowler finished with 12 rebounds, which played a key role in limiting Hillcrest's shot attempts.
"This was the best I've seen our girls play all year," Lady Mustang head coach Stan Fowler said. "We just had one of those nights where everything came together.
"Tonight, our defense made the difference. I've seen Hillcrest play. They're a good team. I think we were able to get the momentum early and keep it. Sometimes, when things are going for you, it's like a tidal wave."
With the win, Fowler claimed back-to-back NEA championships, winning the tournament with Izard County Consolidated last year, before taking the helm at BIC this season.
Fowler feels the Lady Mustangs' earlier tourney games played a role in preparation for the final.
"I really think the other games that were so tough and hard for us helped us accomplish our goal here. We were the number one seed going in, but we had to earn our spot in the championship game against some quality teams."
Once BIC started their run, they seemingly never stopped, dominating the scoreboard 39-15 at the half and 59-23 going into the fourth. The onslaught was so great, the mercy rule went into effect, keeping the clock from being stopped during the fourth quarter.
The Lady Mustangs were locked-in from the free throw line, bagging 23 of 28 as a team.
Shepard once more showed why many consider her among the best players in class AA, finishing with a game-high 27 points. She was the driving force of the offense, adding four assists while figuring into every crucial run. She was also an impressive 10-for-10 from the stripe.
Garrett finished with 15 points, including eight straight for the Lady Mustangs during the opening frame. Sammi Fowler bagged 12 points, en route to picking up a double-double. Other scorers were Smith 7, Teela Swaims 2 and Ashley Tate 1.
For their efforts, Shepard, Garrett and Sammi Fowler were named to the All-NEA Team.