Town Crier Sports Staff
Riverside Lady Rebels advanced to the State tournament for the first time since the 2001 season with a 66-49 victory over Walnut Ridge Thursday afternoon in the first round of the 2A North Regional Tournament at Rector.
Walnut Ridge went undefeated in league play to claim the Conference championship, but was upset in the District tournament, giving the Lady Rebels one of the tougher draws entering the regionals. But Riverside jumped on the Bobcats early, starting the game with an 8-0 run as they rolled to a 24-15 first period lead.
Riverside, the 2A-3 District runner-ups, took a 37-27 lead into the dressing room at the half, thanks largely to the inside play of senior Marisa Johnson and sophomore Brianna Driver, as the duo combined for 22 first half points. The Lady Rebels also shot a blistering 18-23 from the foul line.
Riverside built their lead to 15 points entering the fourth quarter and were never seriously threatened as they received their ticket to next week's Class AA State Tournament in Danville.
Driver finished with a game high 28 points, including a 12-15 performance from the foul line, while grabbing 13 rebounds. Johnson also recorded a double-double, scoring 17 points and snaring 17 boards. Morgan Emery hit double digits for the Lady Rebs, tallying 11 points. Kelsey Turner scored three, Katey Campbell, Kassie Douglas and Holly Dudley pitched in two points apiece while Kailey Holt added one point. Riverside finished the night 27-37 from the charity stripe.
Walnut Ridge put three players in double figures, led by Vanessa Oliver who scored 16 points. Chelsea Treadway and Chelsey Linebaugh chipped in 11 points each. The Lady Bobcats, who finished the season with a 21-5 mark, shot a miserable 9-27 from the foul line while making six three pointers.
"We got off to a great start," said Riverside Coach Greg Rainwater. "We hit our free throws, which was big for us. We have really been working on free throw shooting. I am so proud of my kids. They have had a great year. It feels great to be going back to the state tournament. These kids are getting rewarded for all their hard work."
The Lady Rebels were hoping to carry the momentum from their opening round victory into Friday night's semi-finals against league foe Bay, but for the second time this month the Lady Yellowjackets stung Riverside, handing the Lady Rebels a 56-53 setback, despite a 23 point performance by senior Marisa Johnson.
Bay, who cost the Lady Rebels a share of the 2A-3 conference championship by knocking off Riverside in the regular season finale at Bay, played the role of spoiler again by erasing a 26-19 halftime deficit with a strong third quarter. The Lady Yellowjackets outscored Riverside 21-11 during the pivotal third period to take a 40-37 lead into the final frame.
Riverside battled back and forged a 43-43 tie on a Brianna Driver bucket at the 6:48 mark of the fourth quarter, but Laci Staton's short jumper in the lane gave Bay a 45-43 lead with 5:53 to go, and the Lady Rebels would never catch up. Bay built their lead to 52-46 and had ample opportunity to close the game out from the free throw line, but hit only two of six foul shots down the stretch, allowing Riverside one last chance to send the game into overtime with 4.7 seconds left in the game. The Lady Rebels frantically raced down the court but failed to get a shot off as the clock expired, dropping Riverside into the consolation game.
Johnson, who led Riverside with 23 points, also grabbed a game high 17 rebounds. Brianna Driver recorded a double-double with 12 points and 13 boards. Katey Campbell scored eight, Kelsey Turner netted six, while Morgan Emery and Kassie Douglas tallied two points apiece. Riverside hit an impressive 14-16 from the foul line, but committed 20 turnovers.
Bay, who struggled from the foul line, hitting just 15-27 attempts, placed three players in double digits. Meghon Mink and Laci Staton scored 16 points apiece while Natasha Coffey added 12 more. Bay hit five treys, including three by Mink.
The loss dropped the Lady Rebels into the third place game against regional host Rector, who had defeated Riverside last week at Caraway for the District Championship.
The Lady Cougars jumped out to a 22-11 lead after the first quarter before watching Riverside rally to pull within 29-24 at the half. Rector increased their advantage to 51-40 after three quarters and blew the game open in the final frame to win going away, 68-43.
Marisa Johnson was the lone Lady Rebel in double figures, scoring 16 points. Kailey Holt finished with nine points. Kassie Douglas netted four, Morgan Emery, Kelsey Turner and Katey Campbell scored three points apiece, Brianna Driver and Anne Marie Johnson tallied two points each while Holly Dudley added one. Riverside hit 12-16 free throws but managed only one three pointer.
Rector placed three players in double digits, led by Hannah Parsley's 19 points. Jordan Cornelison scored 12 points while Amber Haynes added 11.
The loss sends Riverside to the State Tournament as a number four seed. The Lady Rebels will open tournament play Wednesday at 1 p.m. against Carlisle, the number one seed from the East Regional.