(Town Crier photo/Trent Fletcher)
East Poinsett County battled through foul trouble and a stiff challenge from Manila but came away with a hard fought 47-39 victory over the Lady Lions to capture their third straight Gerald Jennings Tournament Championship Saturday night at Armorel.
It was a special victory for East Poinsett County, where the late Gerald Jennings served as Superintendent for a number of years.
"This championship really means a lot of us," said EPC Coach Bobby Lewallen. "This is the fourth straight year we have played for the championship and our third title in a row. It means a lot for the Jennings family to be here and hand us the trophy. Mr. Jennings did so much for our school. It means a lot for us to get this win."
EPC took a 16-13 lead after the first period but found themselves in trouble when Jordan Madden picked up her third foul midway through the second quarter. The game slowed to a crawl, with neither team able to get anything going offensively. A Kimberly Wise lay-up tied the game at 18-18 with 2:16 left in the half, before LaPorscha Williams gave the Lady Warriors a two point halftime lead with a steal and lay-up of her own.
Madden started the third quarter but immediately picked up her fourth foul and had to return to the bench. But senior LaPorscha Williams took the Lady Warriors on her shoulders and carried them to a 34-27 lead after the third period, scoring 10 of her team's 14 third quarter points.
The Lady Warriors stretched their lead to double digits when Carla Kemp completed a three point play with 6:42 left in the game, but Manila made one last charge, outscoring EPC 10-2 over the next 3:00 to shave EPC's lead to 39-37. Wise scored seven of the 10 points during the Manila comeback. But Madden reentered the game and hit a critical bucket at the 3:27 mark, giving EPC a 41-37 lead, and the Lady Lions would get no closer.
"Coach Priest really surprised us with his game plan tonight," said Lewallen. "He slowed the game down and it gave us a lot of problems. His girls did an excellent job of sticking to his game plan and doing what they were supposed to do. They put up a great fight. They are a very good team."
"I was proud of our kids," said Manila Coach Jeff Priest. "No one thought we would be here tonight, having to play an undefeated Valley View team earlier in the tournament. But we surprised everyone by giving them their first loss. We wanted to have a chance to win the game in the last 2:00, and when Michelle Daniel hit the three, it gave us a chance. But Madden came back in the game and hit a big basket, and we just couldn't get over the hump. EPC is really a good team."
Williams led EPC with 16 points while Madden scored 10, despite sitting out over half the game in foul trouble. Jocelyn Joplin scored eight points, Carla Kemp had five, Becca Ross netted four, while Katelyn Armstrong and Cara Pilgrim added two points apiece. The Lady Warriors finished the night 7-11 from the foul line.
Wise led all scorers with 21 points while Daniel finished with six points. Colleen Kemp, Rebekah White and Kristen Painter all scored four points apiece. Manila made just 11-24 from the foul line and hit two three pointers.
Manila opened the tournament with a 45-44 victory over Piggott behind Rebekah White's 15 points. Kimberly Wise chipped in 12 points, including three treys. Colleen Kemp netted 10, Kristen Painter had six, while Michelle Daniel added two. Manila hit 9-20 free throws and made four three pointers.
Jordan Engle led all scorers, pacing Piggott with 18 points. The Lady Mohawks finished 9-12 from the foul line and hit three treys. Piggott jumped to an 18-9 first period lead, but Manila rallied to take a 23-20 edge at the half. The Lady Lions took a 36-32 lead into the final frame.
Manila advanced to the finals by squeaking past Valley View 41-39. Wise led Manila with 15 points while White chipped in 10. Kemp scored eight points and dished out eight assists while Daniel also scored eight. Manila hit 1-5 free throws and drilled four treys.
Valley View was led by Morgan Sills, who scored 15 points. The Lady Blazers hit 7-19 free throws and nailed four three pointers.
Manila built a 17-6 first period lead before Valley View outscored the Lady Lions 19-6 in the second period to take a 25-23 lead into intermission. The Lady Blazers held a 33-32 edge entering the final frame before Manila rallied for the victory.
Manila will return to action Monday when they host Corning in a 3A-3 conference battle. The Lady Lions will travel to Hoxie for another conference tilt Thursday night.