BROCKWELL-The Rural Special Lady Rebels breathed new life into their tradition-rich basketball program Saturday afternoon at Izard County High School, punching their golden ticket to the Class 1A state championship game in Hot Springs after defeating Alpena 69-40 in the semifinals of the Class 1A State Tournament.
The Lady Rebels jumped out to a 15-9 advantage behind strong play from their two senior starters, getting eight points from speedy senior guard Maddison Kocher on drives to the basket and seven points from classmate Olivia Carlton, who buried a deep three-pointer before adding inside shots of her own. Sophomore forward Kamryn Sutterfield entered the scoring column in the second frame of play with five points coming from both inside and outside, taking a 33-28 lead into the locker room at the halftime break. Alex Hill kept Alpena in it with 14 first half points, going a perfect five of five from the charity stripe.
Rural Special turned in their highest scoring quarter of the contest while turning up the defensive intensity, outscoring the Lady Leopards 20-7 to go up 53-38 behind five points from sophomore guard Abby Linville, who drained her second triple of the game before Carlton also tacked on her second as well, getting help from the tough play of freshman Ashtyn Knapp, turning second chances produced by offensive rebounds into baskets down low.
The last eight minutes consisted of the Lady Rebels putting together a final 16-9 run that involved Sutterfield and Carlton combining for 13 points, dominating the inside game in the process to pull away and seal the 69-40 victory, bringing the Rural Special faithful to their feet at the sound of the final buzzer, celebrating their team’s first state championship berth since the 2005 season.
Carlton pumped in a game-high 20 points, also getting double-digit scoring performances from Sutterfield (14) and Kocher with 12. Knapp and Linville each chipped in with eight apiece. Hill led Alpena (32-5) with 18.
"These girls bought into our game plan and executed and trusted each other," exclaimed Rural Special coach Trey Berry, who is in his second year at the helm of the program at his alma mater. "We have had our ups and downs throughout the season, but we have really come along here at the end and are moving on."
The Lady Rebels’ road to the championship game began with a 77-56 rout of Blevins, leading to a 67-58 drilling of previously No. 1-ranked Norfork in the quarterfinal round. In the opening round victory over the Lady Hornets, Sutterfield rang up 26 points (14 in the first quarter alone) while Linville had 18 and Kocher concluded with 17, as the two guards combined for six triples.
The third seed from Region 3 made their outing against the Lady Panthers one to truly remember, turning in a complete game on both ends of the floor, leading 21-10, 39-26 and 66-44 at the quarter breaks. Sutterfield led once again with 25 points, getting accelerated play from Carlton with 22, Linville with 20 and Kocher with 12. Senior guard Whitlee Layne, who finished her career as the state’s second all-time leading scorer, had 36 points for Norfork (34-5).
"I'm super proud of this team," added Berry. "I told them that this is how a team comes together and plays with heart, and you could tell it from start to finish that's what they have done here. I'm honestly speechless right now."
Rural Special (30-11) will take on defending state champion Wonderview (33-6) Saturday afternoon at 3:30 PM at the Bank of the Ozarks Arena in Hot Springs for an opportunity to haul in their first state crown in school history. The Lady Daredevils have won the previous three matchups this season. For Wonderview, this is their third consecutive state finals appearance and sixth since 2012, where they also won it all.