Bay's miraculous finish stuns Lady Rebels in NEA finals
Bay capped off one of the most remarkable endings in Northeast Arkansas Invitational Tournament history, pulling off an improbable Hail-Mary play as the Lady Yellowjackets shocked Riverside 50-49 in the finals of the girl’s lower division championship game Wednesday night at the First National Bank Arena in Jonesboro.
The two teams were tied 48-all in the final moments, with the Lady Rebels in possession of the ball. Riverside senior Brittney Sain drove to the hoop and was fouled with 0.6 seconds remaining on the clock. Sain misfired on the first attempt, prompting Bay coach Braden Watson to call time out in an effort to freeze Sain before her second shot. Sain foiled the Bay strategy by calming dropping in the second free throw to give the Lady Rebels what appeared to be their second consecutive tournament title.
But Bay made good on its one last chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Mallory Hartley grabbed the made free throw, raced down the baseline and launched a perfect pass over the outstretched fingertips of Lady Rebel Haven Robertson. The ball took one bounce into the hands of a sprinting Sarah Blackman, who deftly laid the ball off the glass, giving the Lady Yellowjackets their second NEA title in the last three years.
The game’s ending would not come without controversy, however, as replays on social media showed Blackman’s winning bucket came just after the horn sounded. Several clock keeping errors occurred in the final sequence. Following Sain’s made free throw, the clock keeper inadvertently allowed .03 seconds to tick off. Then, on Hartley’s pass to Blackman, the clock ran prior to Blackman touching the ball, causing the final horn to sound just before Blackman’s heroics. Officials glanced at one another and nodded in agreement that the basket should count, setting off a wild celebration by the Lady Yellowjackets and a look of disbelief from the Riverside players and fans.
“What a game,” said Riverside Coach Spencer Hoffman. “Here’s the bottom line: I cost us the game by not calling timeout on the made free throw. I cost us the game. But hats off to Bay for making a spectacular play at the end of the game. I don’t want to take anything away from what Bay did.”
“We were just trying to get a shot off,” said Bay Coach Braden Watson. “Get a shot off and get something up. We were fortunate to get a really good look. It was a great pass by Hartley and number 10, Haven Robertson, missed it by about an inch. Had she touched it we wouldn’t have won. Blackman made a really athletic play and we won the game. Every girl who has been on the floor for us has gone through about anything you can throw at them. They have all played in the state tournament and the state finals. They’ve experienced about anything you can go through. They are a resilient bunch. I knew they wouldn’t lay down no matter what. There were some ups and some down, and there’s things we could have done better, but I am very pleased with their effort and how they executed.”
In a twist of irony, Bay turned the tables on Riverside. Last season the Lady Rebels had lost twice to Bay before knocking off the Lady Yellowjackets in the semifinals of the NEA before going on to win the tournament title over Marmaduke. This year, it was Bay who had lost twice to the Lady Rebels during the regular season. Wednesday night’s win was sweet revenge for Bay, who also ended Riverside’s 20 game unbeaten streak.
The game was close throughout, with neither team holding more than a six-point lead. The Lady Rebels held a 14-9 advantage after the first quarter by banging home four triples, including two by Robertson, who scored eight points in the opening stanza. Hartley kept the Lady ‘Jackets close by pumping in seven first period points.
Bay junior guard Abby Frisby heated up in the second quarter, draining three consecutive treys to put the Lady Yellowjackets on top 20-16 at the 4:48 mark. But Riverside bounced back, outscoring Bay 10-2 the rest of the quarter to take a 26-22 lead into the dressing room at intermission.
The Lady Rebels stretched their advantage to 33-27 midway through the third quarter when Lotti Hoffman sank a long three from beyond the top of the key. Bay fought back when Blackman scored seven straight points, giving the Yellowjackets a 36-35 edge at the 2:05 mark. Riverside went back on top with Robertson’s short jumper, but Bay closed the quarter with an Olivia Ferguson bucket and a pair of Hartley free throws to take a 40-37 lead into the final frame.
Bay maintained their lead throughout much of the fourth quarter, and led 46-43 with just under 4:00 remaining. But a Sain free throw and an offensive stick-back from the 5’9” senior knotted the game at 46-all at the 3:56 mark. Sain struck again with a short jumper with 3:30 remaining to put the Lady Rebels on top, 48-46, but Hartley answered with an acrobatic eight-footer with 1:00 remaining to tie the score. Hartley was fouled on the play, but missed the and-one, leaving the two teams tied and setting up the final frantic seconds.
Hartley pumped in a game high 19 points to lead Bay while Frisby scored 11. Blackman, who sat out most of the first half with foul trouble, scored all 11 of her points in the second half, while Ferguson finished with nine. The Lady Yellowjackets connected on 10-13 foul shots and drained six three pointers.
Robertson paced Riverside with 14 while Hoffman nailed four triples and had 12 points. Sain tallied nine, Carson Smith scored four, Bailey Fisher and Hattie Milligan netted three points apiece while Whitney Wagganor and Hailey Carr added two points each. The Lady Rebels knocked down 6-8 free throw attempts and drilled nine treys.
Both Bay and Riverside placed four players each on the All-Tournament team. Representing Riverside were Fisher, Hoffman, Robertson and Sain. Bay was represented by Blackman, Frisby, Hartley, and Kaylee Crain. Other area players to make the NEA Tournament squad were Manila’s Sydney Adcock and Andrew McFarlin of Buffalo Island Central.
Riverside reached the finals with a 69-57 semifinal victory over Melbourne Tuesday afternoon. The underdog Lady Bearkatz held a surprising 16-13 edge after the first quarter behind freshman guard Reagan Rapert’s nine first period points. Riverside battled back in the second stanza, erasing a six-point deficit, to storm ahead 31-28 at the half. Hailey Carr and Briley Douglas combined for 10 points in the paint while Fisher pumped in five from the perimeter, leading the Riverside rally. Sain sparked a third quarter surge as the Lady Rebels forged ahead 47-36 entering the fourth period. Riverside maintained a double-digit lead through the final frame in advancing to the championship round.
Riverside placed four players in double digits, led by Fisher’s 14 points. Sain tallied 12 while Robertson and Carr chipped in 10 points each. Douglas and Hoffman netted eight points apiece, Smith had five while Milligan chipped in two points. The Lady Rebels connected on 17-19 charity tosses and made four three pointers.
Rapert poured in a game high 23 points to top the Lady Bearkatz while Dani Hardaway contributed 10 points.
In quarterfinal action, Riverside blasted Izard County Consolidated 67-19 Saturday, Dec. 23. The Lady Rebels bolted to a 30-4 advantage after the first quarter and held a commanding 45-10 lead at the half. Riverside took a 60-13 bulge into the fourth period.
Fisher led the lady Rebels with 16 points while Hoffman scored 13 and Robertson had 12. Riverside buried 11 three pointers.
Maura Thomason paced ICC with 10 points.
Riverside returns to action Thursday, Jan. 4, with a road trip to Trumann.