The No. 4 ranked Heber Springs Lady Panthers took out a year's worth of frustration on Saturday, drubbing the No. 6 ranked Brookland Lady Bearcats 58-36 in the semifinals of 4A East Regional Tournament at the Panther Den.
Last year Brookland upset Heber in the first round of the regional tournament, escaping in overtime with the help of a controversial call – denying the Lady Panthers a spot in the state tournament.
The Lady Panthers (26-3) didn't allow an official's call determine the outcome this time, taking a 32-22 lead to intermission and blowing away the Lady Bearcats in the second half.
Heber Coach Jamey Riddle said he decided not to talk about last year's game. “I debated on talking about it and decided not to say anything. I think the twins [Skylar and Hannah Johnson] knew about it and they might have talked about it a little bit.”
Tied at 14-all late in the first quarter, Heber took the lead for good when Hannah Johnson turned an offensive rebound into a pair of free throws.
Heber then opened the second quarter with four straight as forward Janae long recorded a putback in transition and guard McKenzie Cresswell sank a 19-foot jumper from left corner off an assist from Hannah Johnson.
Brookland forward Kaylee Kee responded with a stick back, but Heber guard Devrie Attendorn countered with a step-back three-pointer from right corner.
After Kee and Attendorn each hit a free throw, Skylar Johnson canned a turnaround jumper from the charity stripe, extending the Lady Panthers' lead to 26-17, causing the Lady Bearcats to call for timeout with 4:13 left in the first half.
Brookland hit 3 of 4 free throws to trim its deficit to six before Heber forward Makenzie Martin drained a pair of free throws and Skylar Johnson added a pull up jumper from left wing.
Late in the first half Brookland guard Alexa Thompson turned an offensive rebound into two free throws before Skylar Johnson popped a jump shot from left elbow off an assist from Martin, giving Heber a 32-22 lead at halftime.
The Lady Panthers outscored Brookland 11-6 in the third quarter, using their stifling 1-3-1 zone defense to keep the Lady Bearcats from getting a good look at the basket.
“I felt like what we did better than anything was push them off the three-point line. They've got some pure shooters and can penetrate,” said Riddle. “We collapsed on their penetration and did a good job of taking away the high post and anything inside while closing out on their shooters. The girls played smart and cut off their passing lanes.”
On the Lady Panthers' first possession of the third quarter, Hannah Johnson ripped a three-pointer from right corner for a 35-22 lead, but the Lady Bearcats hung around as guard Jordan Maynard hit a 19-foot jumper up top and forward Samantha Flowers followed with a basket from right block.
Page 2 of 2 - Facing Brookland's man-to-man defense, Heber closed the third quarter with a 7-0 spurt, sparked by Attendorn, who scored off a back cut and assist from Long, who moments later drove right side of lane for a layup, plus a foul.
After Long completed the old-fashioned three-point play, Skylar Johnson picked a steal and cruised to the goal for a layup, boosting the Lady Panthers' lead to 15 at 43-28 entering the final eight minutes of play.
The Lady Bearcats closed the gap to 11 early in the fourth quarter before Heber put the game out of reach with a 6-0 run that included baskets by Attendorn, forward Mary Lawrence and Skylar Johnson, who had six points in the fourth period alone.
“I truly feel like our last three games we really haven't hit the stride that we have been needing but I thought we were intense tonight,” said Riddle. “We played heads up, knew what we needed to look for on defense and I thought the girls just did a tremendous job and I am happy for them and the way they played.”
Maynard and Kee each scored nine points to lead Brookland (24-7). Skylar Johnson pumped in a game-high 14 points for Heber, Hannah Johnson followed with 13, Martin and Attendorn each had 10 and Long finished with seven.
The Lady Panthers battled Valley View in the regional finals on Monday. Look for the game story and photos in Friday's edition of The Sun-Times.