Foul trouble thwarted a late comeback by the Heber Springs Lady Panthers against the Harding Academy Wildcats on Tuesday in Searcy. The Lady Panthers rallied from a ten-point third quarter deficit to send the game into overtime, but, by the end of the final buzzer, three Heber Springs starters had fouled out, and the Wildcats held on for a 62-59 win, avenging a 79-55 loss to the Panthers earlier this season.
Sophomore Alden Graves led the Lady Wildcats with 16 points, including three crucial 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Starting point guard Serena Pruitt fouled out of the game with 1:20 left in regulation, and sophomore Hailey Vaughn and senior guard Hannah Thomas followed her to the bench in overtime.
“As usual, fouls played a big part in it down the stretch,” said Lady Panthers head coach Jamey Riddle. “We were up four with about a minute and a half left, and Serena [Pruitt] had fouled out. They turned the pressure up, and we didn't respond. We still battled through it and were able to send it to overtime, but we just had a couple defensive breakdowns there.”
Heber Springs (10-11) jumped out to an 8-2 lead early as Harding Academy (11-9) struggled to find its shot in the first quarter.
Sophomore Kailey Starr knocked down a 3-pointer, and Pruitt converted a Thomas steal into points in the post at the other end to give the Lady Panthers an 18-13 lead midway through the second quarter, but Harding Academy would close out the half on a 15-1 run behind two 3-pointers from Layne Pace, a triple from Graves, and 4 for 6 shooting from the free-throw line, giving the Wildcats a 28-19 lead at the break.
Harding Academy maintained a 10-point lead for much of the third quarter before Pruitt led Heber Springs on a 9-0 run to trim the Wildcat's advantage to one. Thomas sparked the rally with an open look in the post, then Pruitt pulled down a defensive board and tipped in a teammate's missed shot at the other end. After the defense forced another turnover, Pruitt pulled up for a long 3-pointer to cut the lead to three. The junior point guard forced another steal and fed Vaughn on the fast break to take the Harding Academy lead to one, 38-37, head into the fourth quarter.
Pruitt opened the quarter with another steal and outlet to Thomas, who was fouled on the break and went 1 for 2 at the line, tying the score at 38. Thomas would hit a 3-pointer on the Panthers' next possession, then converted an old-fashioned three point play at the line after being fouled on a driving basket.
Graves hit her second 3-pointer of the night, and Elaine Helpenstill scored in the post to end Heber's 16-0 run, but Thomas would respond with another spot-up 3-pointer.
Thomas scored ten of her game-high 17 points in the fourth quarter.
Graves answered Thomas with her third 3-pointer, then, with 1:20 left in the game, Pruitt fouled out while defending Helpenstill. The junior post player knocked down both free throws in the bonus to cut the Heber Springs lead to two, 50-48.
“You hate to tell a player not to be aggressive and try to make something happen for your team,. You just have to pick your moments a little better” said Riddle. “There's no doubt we need [Pruitt] on the floor, especially down the stretch there it probably would have helped. But if she hadn't been so aggressive earlier in the game, we might not have even been in that situation.”
Helpenstill converted two costly Heber Springs turnovers into points in the post on consecutive possessions, scoring six straight points to give the Lady Wildcats a 52-50 lead with 32 seconds left.
With the game on the line, Vaughn drove to the rim and drew a foul call, and the sophomore knocked down both free throws to send it into overtime, tied at 52.
Graves opened the overtime period with her fourth and final 3-pointer of the night. Thomas responded with a driving layup, then Audrey Laine hit a short jumper to keep the Wildcats up by three, 57-54.
The Lady Panther's overtime shots weren't falling, but Harding Academy could only convert 5 for 12 free throws as Heber Springs continued to foul to stop the clock. Vaughn and Thomas fouled out as the Lady Panthers trailed 61-54 with a minute left.
Junior Lana Milton hit 2 for 2 at the line to trim the lead to five, then Graves split at the stripe to put Harding Academy up six.
Milton's turnaround 3-pointer cut the lead to three with less than ten seconds left, but the Lady Panthers would take too long to foul after the subsequent Harding Academy inbound, letting too much time tick off the clock before sending the Wildcats to the line.
With 2.9 seconds left, Laine missed both free throws, the Lady Panthers came down with the rebound, and Milton's full-court, potentially game-tying shot fell wide left.
Thomas led Heber Springs with 17 points. Milton scored 15, Pruitt followed with 13, and Vaughn finished with nine points.
Graves paced the Lady Wildcats with 16 points. Helpenstill finished with 13.
Heber Springs will host the 18-2 Bald Knob Bulldogs at the Panther Den tonight after the junior games, beginning at 5 p.m.