Town Crier Sports Staff
Riverside went into Friday night's District Championship game with Rector knowing it would be tough to beat the Lady Cougars for a third straight time. Riverside had defeated Rector in two hard fought regular season contests and hoped they could make it three in a row, but the Lady Cougars came out fired up and ready to play as they took home a 62-48 victory, and with it, the 2A-3 District Title.
Rector capitalized on a poor free throw shooting night from the Lady Rebels, and used a tenacious full court press that forced 22 Riverside turnovers as the senior laden Lady Cougars claimed their first district title since their ninth grade season.
Rector's pressure defense forced 14 first period Lady Rebel turnovers and led to several easy Rector buckets in building a 12-10 first quarter lead and a 31-26 halftime advantage.
Riverside took their only lead of game, 10-9, on a 10-foot jumper by Marisa Johnson at the 1:25 mark of the opening quarter, but Skye Shepard answered Johnson's bucket with a three point play at the 42 second mark to put Rector ahead, 12-10.
The Lady Cougars built their lead to as many as 10 points in the second quarter when Hillary Calhoun drilled a three pointer with 3:12 left in the opening half, putting Rector up 26-16. The Lady Rebels outscored Rector 10-5 to cut the Rector lead to five at the half.
Riverside rallied in the third quarter when Kelsey Turner ripped a three pointer and tied the game at 33-33 on a short jumper by Morgan Emery at the 4:29 mark. After a pair of free throws by Rector's Amber Haynes put the Lady Cougars back on top 35-33, Johnson tied the game again with an offensive stick with 4:05 left.
But the Lady Cougars took control of the game following the Johnson basket. Lauren Faulkner gave Rector the lead for good at the 3:06 mark with a long three pointer. On Riverside's next possession, Johnson picked up her fourth foul, sending the 5'11" senior to the bench. Shepard took advantage of Johnson's absence and scored from the inside, pushing Rector's lead to five, and the Lady Cougars closed out the quarter with back to back three pointers by Faulkner and Hannah Parsley, sending Rector into the final quarter with a 46-35 lead.
Rector hit 9-12 free throws in the final quarter and Riverside never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.
"We really played well tonight," said Rector Coach Matt Rabjohn. "It's hard to beat someone three times, especially when you are as evenly matched as these two teams are. It's always good to play Riverside. You know you are going to get a good ball game and a well coached team. There are good kids on both sides of the floor and you know you are going to get a hard fought game. We had only played two games in the last 12 days so we were very well rested. I thought our press really hurt them tonight and was the difference in the game. We had a lot of energy out there. This was probably the best defensive press we have had all year."
"Rector really took it to us," said Riverside Coach Greg Rainwater. "We really struggled to get the ball inbounds and get it up the court. We had a lot of turnovers. We couldn't hit our free throws. We made a really good run and got it tied back up but couldn't get over the hump. But you have to give Rector credit. They have a really good team with a lot of seniors that was pretty hungry tonight. We want to give them all the credit."
Johnson paced Riverside with 16 points while pulling down nine rebounds. Morgan Emery scored nine points, Brianna Driver netted seven, Kelsey Turner tallied six, Kailey Holt contributed five while Katey Campbell added five points and eight rebounds. The Lady Rebels hit just 11-23 free throws and nailed three treys.
Amber Haynes led Rector with 17 points while Lauren Faulkner finished with 10. The Lady Cougars were 15-21 from the foul line and nailed seven treys.
Riverside downed Turrell Wednesday night 65-43 as four Lady Rebels scored in double figures, led by Brianna Driver's 15 points. Morgan Emery, Marisa Johnson and Kailey Holt all scored 11 points apiece. Katey Campbell tallied eight, Kelsey Turner scored six, while Kassie Douglas and Christy Ward added two points apiece. Riverside was 11-17 from the foul line and finished with eight three pointers.
Riverside will open regional tournament action as the number two seed from the 2A-3 Conference and will face Walnut Ridge Thursday afternoon at 4:00 at Rector.