Town Crier Sports Staff
The top-seeded Lady Mustangs of Buffalo Island Central rolled through their first two opponents at the 61st annual NEA Invitational Tournament at Jonesboro, and look poised to contend for their third straight title. The girls advanced with a 65-40 win over Marked Tree in round one on Saturday and beat Riverside 57-37 in the second round Wednesday evening. They were scheduled to take on Bay in the semi-finals at noon on Friday.
Leading the way for the BIC girls were last year's NEA tournament MVP Jessica Shepard and teammate Sammi Fowler. The two combined for 43 points in the first round win, and added another 33 in the win over the Lady Rebels on Wednesday.
Against the Lady Indians in round one Shepard led all scorers with 22 points, and was 8 of 9 from the free-throw line. Fowler finished with 21 and converted on 12 of 16 free throw attempts. Lauryn Smith was also in double figures with 14 for BIC. Leading the way for Marked Tree in the loss was Deziree Tull with 16 points.
Wednesday night the Lady Mustangs turned in a sparkling defensive performance, as they eliminated the Lady Rebels by 20. "Riverside is a very good team," Coach Stan Fowler noted after the win, "we just played the best defense that we've played all year. That's why it turned out the way it did."
The BIC girls pushed that defensive intensity to a 12-4 lead at the end of the first quarter, and extended that lead to 24-13 at the halftime break. The difference was 14 at the end of the third quarter as the Lady Mustangs enjoyed a 38-24 lead going into the final frame.
Fowler led all scorers with 22, including three three-point-baskets, and recorded a double-double with 10 rebounds. Shepard added 11 points, shot 7 of 9 from the free-throw line, had six steals and seven assists in the win.
Also scoring for the Lady Mustangs were Smith and Jordan Miller with eight each, Chelsie Nix had six and Corie Flannigan finished with two. As a team the BIC girls were 16 of 20 from the free-throw line. Katey Campbell paced the Lady Rebels with 12 while Brianna Driver added another 10. As a team Riverside was 8 of 17 from the charity stripe.
"Riverside is a well-coached and well-disciplined team," Fowler added, "their shots just didn't fall for them and ours did." With the win the Lady Mustangs extended their season record to 19-3. "I thought we executed, I felt we boxed-out, that we did those little bitty things right," Fowler observed, "and a lot of girls stepped up."
The Lady Mustangs were scheduled to take on Bay at noon on Friday, with the winner advancing to the championship against the winner of the Rector-Cedar Ridge game. "We're right there with Bay, Rector and C-Ridge," Fowler noted, "we're all pretty evenly matched. But if we play defense like we did tonight, I like our chances."
The A-AA girls championship game was scheduled for Saturday afternoon at 1:30 on the main floor of the Convocation Center.