Heber Springs sophomore forward Makenzie Martin, who finished with a game-high 16 points while collecting eight steals and 10 rebounds, came up clutch when the Lady Panthers needed it the most in the opening round of the 4A State Tournament on Wednesday night.
Tied with 1:09 remaining, Martin turned an aggressive offensive rebound into two free throws and the Lady Panthers survived to fight another day once Pottsville guard Erica Lackey's last second three-point attempt from the corner sailed over the rim as Heber escaped with a 41-39 victory.
“I am just proud of the girls,” said Heber Coach Jamey Riddle. “They fought, stayed with it and things weren't going our way in the fourth quarter and last year we probably could have laid down. We were in this same spot in [regionals] last year, but we persevered this year,” said Riddle.
Heber, which entered the tournament as the second seed out of the East Region, had to hold off the hard charging Lady Apaches (14-14) without star guard Skylar Johnson, who fouled out with 7:34 left in the fourth quarter.
“Foul troubles hurt us a little bit,” said Riddle. “Devrie [Attendorn] got in foul trouble and of course Skyar fouling out didn't help us at all. I'm proud of the girls that stepped up. [McKenzie] Cresswell and Mary [Lawrence] came in and did a good job. We didn't really get rattled. We just didn't quite get going.”
Utilizing its full-court pressure backed with a 1-3-1 zone defense, Heber created 14 turnovers in the first half, including five steals by Martin. Trailing 25-15 at halftime, Pottsville handled the ball much better in the final 16 minutes, only giving up four turnovers.
“We probably didn't have quite the intensity we had in the first half but playing teams [in state] they could have made an adjustment and we just didn't pick up on it enough to put that pressure back on them,” said Riddle.
Tied at 6-all, Heber closed the first period with a 3-0 spurt as forward Janae Long and Martin each hit a free throw following an offensive rebound and Skylar Johnson turned a steal into a free throw.
Leading 9-6 entering the second quarter, the Lady Panthers extended their lead when Martin ripped away an offensive rebound and passed to Cresswell, who drilled a three-pointer from right wing.
After Martin turned a steal into a layup, Pottsville center Courtney Dotson scored from right block. Attendorn answered with a pull up jumper from right elbow, but Dotson notched a stick back.
Martin swiped a steal and dashed down the floor for a layup as the Lady Panthers pushed their lead to 18-10, but Pottsville guard Tera Short countered with a three-pointer from right elbow.
Leading by five, Heber closed the first half with a 7-2 run ignited by Skylar Johnson, who scored four straight on a short pull up jumper followed by a steal, which she turned into a layup.
Moments later Martin snatched her sixth steal of the first half and finished with a tough layup in transition, while drawing hard contact. After Martin completed the old-fashioned three-point play, Dotson ended
Pottsville's drought with a bucket from right block, leaving Heber with a 25-15 lead at halftime. Heber opened the second half strong, pushing its lead to 30-17 on two foul shots from Martin and a steal by Skylar Johnson, who found twin sister Hannah Johnson for a fast-break layup and a 30-17 lead.
But the Lady Apaches chipped away at their deficit late in the third quarter as guard Hope Huffman and Lackey each drained a three-pointer on consecutive possessions, suddenly slicing Heber's lead to 30-23.
Attendorn fired back with a three-pointer from right elbow off an inbound play, but Pottsville, which entered the tournament as the fourth seed out the North Region, closed the third period strong as forward Ashley Brannon scored four straight, including a three-point play off a bank shot, leaving the Lady Panthers with a 33-27 lead entering the final eight minutes of play.
Pottsville opened the fourth quarter with a 7-0 run, taking its first lead since the opening minutes when Brannon turned an offensive rebound into a pair of free throws. Suddenly trailing 34-33, Long pushed the Lady Panthers back in front with two foul shots, but Dotson notched a putback for Pottsville, giving the Lady Apaches a 36-35 advantage.
Long followed her own miss and scored from left block as Heber jumped back on top before Huffman sank a foul shot, knotting the score at 37-37 with 2:43 remaining.
Heber regained the lead when Martin caught the ball at left elbow, ducked under a defender and dropped a leaner over two more defenders.
Dotson quickly answered inside for Pottsville before Martin's huge offensive rebound and free throws made the difference as the Lady Panthers clinched a two-point victory and spot in the state quarterfinals. Dotson and Brannon each scored 10 points to lead Pottsville, while Huffman and Lackey scored six apiece.
Following Martin's game-high 16 points, Long added seven points, while Attendorn, Skylar Johnson and Hannah Johnson each finished with five.
The Lady Panthers (27-4) advance to today's quarterfinal round versus top-ranked Malvern, which won the 4A South Regional.
“They are strong and physical and they are really going to get after us defensively,” said Riddle. “We are going to have to be strong with the basketball, be under control to run our offenses and get people open when we are missing shots.” Heber and Malvern clash at 4 p.m. today in Cave City.