The Heber Springs senior girls basketball team came up one game short of qualifying for the regional tournament.
But the Panthers still finished the season with a winning record.
“You get to the regional tournament and it makes you feel like you have had a lot better year, regardless of your record,” Heber Springs coach Jamey Riddle said of his team’s 13-12 finish, “but I think we competed well.
“Overall, as a coach, how you want your team to be all year is exactly the way we were. There was no drama. The girls came in and worked hard every day, whether it was a practice or a game. They made things easy for me. I just wish we could have gotten some more wins and made the regional tournament.”
The Panthers season ended with a 44-41 setback to Ozark on Feb. 12 at the 4A-4 district tournament at Ozark.
Heber Springs led 7-2 at the end of the first quarter, but was outscored 19-6 in the second quarter and 10-9 in the third quarter, before making the game close in the final stanza.
“I think we know now that we can compete in this conference,” Riddle said. “At the beginning of the season, we just weren’t sure about it.
“Everytime we played someone twice, the second time we played them a lot better, and competed better. We just need to carry that over to next year.”
The only senior to play this season for Heber Springs was Jesslyn Johnson.
“She did a good job inside,” Riddle said. “She was a good leader this year. The second half of the season she got going and found her rhythm.”
Junior Jillian Herring moved over from the point guard position to the “two or three guard” while junior Libby Stutts moved to the point and Riddle praised the play of both.
“We never really had Libby at the point guard position,” he said, “but she did a really good job. I felt like it didn’t take away from her scoring, she still lead us in scoring on the year.”
Herring finished with a team-high 10 points in the Panthers season-ending loss to Ozark.
“I think she really got going in the second-half of the season,” Riddle said of Herring. “She was probably our second leading rebounder on the team.”
Riddle credited the improved play of juniors Claudia Newberry, Ashley Spanel and Mary Shearer as well that of sophomores Paige Hall and Ellie Riddle.
“Ellie got going in the second half of the season and had some games where she scored in double digits,” the Panther coach said. “Someone like her, we need to get going more on the outside, not just in the inside.
“But really, they all need to step and be a good threat outside.”
This season Riddle moved the ninth-grade girls up to the senior high and let them compete at a higher level playing in senior high junior varsity game, while the junior girls team was made up entirely of eighth-graders.
The move seem to pay off as both teams got better.
The junior varsity team capped it’s season on Feb. 5 with a last-second win over Morrilton, a team that had beaten them by 15 three weeks earlier, while the eighth-grade girls made the 4A-4 junior district tournament semifinals, where they were knocked out by the eventual champions, Ozark, 37-16, on Feb. 7.
“We played everybody way closer the second time we played,” Riddle said of his eighth-graders. “We looked back to the first two or three games of the year, and we probably had 25 plus turnovers per game, and down the stretch at end of the season, maybe 10 or less turnovers so that’s a sign of getting better, getting more comfortable with the basketball and understanding the game.
“They’ll continue to get better. They are still growing, maturing, and they keep coming in and working hard. They need to get a little bit stronger in the weight room, and a little quicker.
“I am looking forward to both groups next year. Hopefully the future is bright for both them and will come out and play like it.”
Heber Springs scoring against Ozark (41): Jillian Herring 10, Libby Stutts 8, Ashley Spanel 6, Claudia Newberry 6, Jesslyn Johnson 5, Ellie Riddle 4.
The senior girls dropped their final regular season contest with a 49-37 setback to Clarksville on Feb. 5.
Heber Springs and Clarksville were tied at 19-all at the half, but Clarksville outscored the Panthers 20-7 in the third quarter.
Heber Springs scoring (37): Jillian Herring 13, Ashley Spanel 6, Claudia Newberry 6, Libby Stutts 4, Jesslyn Johnson 4, Mary Shearer 2, Paige Hall 2.
In the semifinals of the 4A-4 junior high district tournament at Subiaco Academy on Feb. 7, Ozark ended Heber Springs’ season with a 37-16 victory.
The Panthers trailed 17-8 at the half and 23-10 at the end of the third quarter.
Heber Springs scoring (16): Sophia Stone 10, Rylee Harrod 2, Hope Turney 2, Mikayla Sartin 2.