Entering Tuesday's 2-4A Conference showdown, Newport's Lady Greyhounds had a chance to forge a tie for first place with a win over Heber Springs at the Panther Den.
But the first-place Lady Panthers refused to fold, holding off Newport's second-half comeback attempt for a 65-61 victory, which secured a spot alone atop the standings.
Lady Panther Coach Jamey Riddle said experience helped his team come out with a big victory. “We probably could have folded there when they started making a run at us and as bad as our defense was tonight our experience came through.
“I saw Devrie [Attendorn] step up and really try to motivate everybody and we got some rebounds that we weren't getting early on so that really helped separate us a little bit down the stretch,” added Riddle.
Heber built a 15-12 first quarter lead behind eight points from forward Makenzie Martin and three each from shooting guard Skylar Johnson and forward Janae Long, who hit a leaner in traffic in the final minute of the period for a three-point cushion.
After Newport forward Jasmine Harrison scored from right block off an assist from guard Tallens Williams, Heber countered with an 8-0 spurt, starting with a free throw from guard McKenzie Cresswell.
Martin followed with two consecutive buckets in the paint, including one off an assist from Attendorn, who moments later popped a three-pointer up top off an assist from Skylar Johnson, boosting Heber's lead to 23-14.
Newport chipped away at its deficit, pulling within eight late in the first half before Skylar Johnson sank a 19-foot jumper from left corner and Attendorn picked a steal and finished with an open floor layup.
With the Lady Panthers leading 33-21, Newport forward Tyrena Friar closed the first half with three straight, including a steal and layup as the Lady Greyhounds pulled within nine at 33-24 heading to the locker room.
Newport opened the third quarter with a 9-0 run, capped by a three-pointer from forward Tamela Steward as the Lady Greyhounds knotted the score at 33-all, causing Heber to call for timeout with 5:20 left in the period.
Following the break in action, the Lady Panthers jumped back in front when Attendorn ripped a three-pointer from right corner off an assist from guard Hannah Johnson.
Newport responded with five straight, taking a 38-37 lead on a putback from guard Shyrah Ellis, but Attendorn retaliated with a three-pointer from right wing and Long slashed right baseline for a layup as Heber quickly regained command.
With 1: 29 left in the third quarter, Martin extended Heber's lead to six with a pair of free throws then Cresswell came away with a steal, which led to a 19-foot jumper from right elbow by Skylar Johnson.
Page 2 of 2 - Ellis drove right side of lane for a layup and Williams hit two free throws as Newport refused to go away, but Cresswell responded with a runner from left side, giving Heber a 50-44 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Early in the final stanza, Friar sandwiched two quick buckets around a hook shot from Heber post player Mary Lawrence, pulling within four before Martin sank a floater in the lane.
Friar turned an offensive rebound into a pair of free throws, Ellis flipped a steal into two more from the charity stripe and Steward hit a pull up jumper in transition as the Lady Greyhounds used a 6-0 run to tie the game at 54-54.
Lawrence put Heber back on top with a rebound bucket but Newport guard Nunnah Lee drove coast-to-coast for a layup.
Tied at 56-all, Cresswell came up with a key steal, which led to a three-pointer from left corner by Attendorn. After Steward made a free throw with 2:09 remaining, Hannah Johnson found twin sister Skylar Johnson cutting backdoor for a layup as the Lady Panthers extended their lead to 61-57.
Following a critical defensive stop, Martin sank two foul shots but Steward fired back with two free throws for Newport. Leading 63-59 with 42.6 seconds left, the Lady Panthers played stout defense down the stretch, while Attendorn notched two free throws to help seal the victory.
Friar paced Newport (10-6, 5-2) with 21 points, Steward followed with 17, Ellis had eight and Lee finished with seven.
Martin, who scored 14 points in the first half, finished with a game-high 22 points for Heber (14-2, 5-0). Attendorn added 17 points while drilling four three-pointers, Skylar Johnson followed with 11 points and Long chipped in eight.
Heber heads to Lonoke tonight for the first game of a three-game road swing. “It's going to be a tough stretch,” said Riddle. “Going to Lonoke and of course then to Clinton … You can throw any records out the window when we go to Clinton. It's going to be a dogfight when we go over there and of course then we go over to Marianna so hopefully we are ready for it.
“With the experience we gained last year hopefully we are ready for it. The sophomores like Skylar, Hannah, Janae and those girls are now juniors so they have been there and hopefully it won't catch them off guard. We are going to have to rebound a little better than we did tonight. Lonoke will be fired up against us and they have a guard and post that are pretty good,” added Riddle.