Facing a 31-23 deficit at intermission, the Heber Springs Lady Panthers came out of the locker room and turned the intensity up to reel off a 41-27 second half run and seal a come from behind 64-58 victory over the Southside Lady Southerners in the second of a three-game set last Tuesday night. The Jr. Lady Southerners pulled away to win the first game 32-21, and the varsity Southerners put on an exhibition and showed why they are heavy contenders for the Class 4A crown during their 62-22 victory over the Panthers.
Sr. Girls
Heber Springs-64 Southside-58
The Lady Southerners got out to a hot start in this 4A-2 matchup, but it was the Lady Panthers who would pick up the win after seniors Lana Milton and Serena Pruitt as well as junior Libby Stutts combined for 35 of the team’s 41 total second half points.
Southside stampeded out to a quick 16-2 advantage, using three-pointers from London Cuzzort and Kassidy Barnt as well as shots from inside from Rylie Freeman and Sydney Sweat, leading to the Lady Panthers picking up the pace but still facing a 19-12 deficit after senior guard Serena Pruitt buried a trifecta from the right corner pocket and scored from down low while classmate Lana Milton also scored from the block and added a three-point play to end the first quarter of action.
Milton threw in two more baskets and Jillian Herring got on the board to cut the Southside lead to one, but Freeman drained back to back shots, one from downtown to go with Reese Gardner’s old-fashioned three-point play and Shelby Warden’s two made field goals to give the Lady Southerners a 31-23 halftime advantage.
The Lady Panthers came out and played their best quarter of the game on both ends of the floor, doubling their first half score total while holding the opposition to just two made buckets, taking their first lead of the game after guard Libby Stutts banked home a triple that capped off a two-minute 9-0 run. After Kailee McGhee laid in a shot off the window, Heber Springs used another big 13-0 run to cushion their lead that included Jesslyn Jackson knock down a pullup jumper before Stutts continued her hot shooting by swishing back-to-back triples as the momentum shifted in the Lady Panthers’ direction, who held a 46-35 lead after three quarters.
Southside would not go down without a fight, coming all the way back to tie the game at 48-48 with 4:34 to go after Gardner and Cuzzort made free throws and Barnt got two floaters to go along with Cuzzort’s quarter-opening triple. Heber’s senior duo of Milton and Pruitt combined for the final nine points of the game, with Milton knocking down a huge three-pointer to go up five and Pruitt cashing in on two free-throws right before Milton scored her final points on a turnaround shot to put the game away.
“Basically, at halftime I said let’s start the game over,” said Heber Springs coach Jamie Riddle. “We didn’t start out how we wanted to. We came out in the second half and cut it to within two right away and they had to call time out. From that point, it was game on and we made a few adjustments on defense to help us out and stretch it out some more and apply more pressure.”
Milton scored a game-high 27 for Heber Springs, who improves to 7-3 on the campaign. Pruitt followed with 15 and Stutts totaled 13 points on three three-pointers, all of her points coming in the second half. Gardner finished with 16, with Barnt and Cuzzort both adding 10 for 6-4 Southside.  “I’m just proud of this team,” exclaimed Riddle. “That’s what you want and expect out of your team, to bounce back like they did. We came back out, turned the intensity up, started knocking down some shots which started from the defensive end, and we kept our composure to pull out the win.”
Sr. Boys
Southside-62 Heber Springs-22
The outcome of this 4A-2 rivalry matchup was never in doubt from the opening tip, as the youthful Southerners used a balanced attack to win big over the Panthers on the road.
Southside was responsible for the first twelve points of the contest after the junior tandem of forward Alex Brogden and guards Will Sitkowski and Matthew Hollifield all contributed baskets before Heber Springs ended their drought after sophomore guard Adam Martin made a pullup jumper and Adkins scored from down low, also adding a put back to start the second quarter. It would be the team’s only made basket the remainder of the half as junior Grant Patterson cashed in on a shot from down town as well as a free throw, with Sitkowski adding five points to his total to give the Southerners a 34-6 lead at the break.
Southside continued to pile on the points out of the intermission, with junior Koby Rich draining a triple and Brogdon adding yet another three point play, as the Panthers continued to struggle although getting two three pointers from Martin to fall. Martin would score the first seven points of the final quarter, but the damage was already done as the Southerners cruised to their ninth victory of the season. Sitkowski led Southside (9-2), who is fresh off a Lyon College Tournament championship, with 10 points, as Brogdon finished with 6. Martin had 13 for the Panthers (1-9).
Jr. Girls
Southside-32 Heber Springs-21
Trailing by as much as 12 points in the third quarter, the Jr. Lady Panthers used a final 10-2 run to pull within four, but Southside kept the foot on the gas pedal and held on for the victory. Ellie Riddle got Heber Springs out to a 5-4 lead after knocking down a three from the right wing and banking in a floater from in the lane, but the Lady Southerners took control and never looked back. Riddle led Heber Springs with 12 points.
The senior teams used their Christmas break to rest up before hosting the Steve Landers Cowboy Chevrolet Holiday Classic that runs from tomorrow through Saturday. The Lady Panthers will battle the Star City Lady Bulldogs in the opening round of the tournament at 6:30 p.m. with the Panthers also playing Star City at 7:45.