The Greenwood Lady Bulldogs’ basketball team has reached the Class 5A state championship game for the second time in three years and the seventh time in school history.
The title game will be played Saturday at Bank of the Ozarks Arena in Hot Springs at the Convention Center beginning at 11:30 a.m.
The GHS girls earned their title shot by winning three games in the state tournament last week at Russellville High School. They defeated Jonesboro, Jacksonville, and Little Rock Christian over three days, Thursday through Saturday. Their opponent for Saturday’s championship will be Nettleton (27-5) from the 5A East.
Head Coach Clay Reeves has already won seven state titles and hopes to add another to his coaching resume on Saturday. He won three championships at Greenland and the last four at Greenwood.
The last time the Lady Bulldogs reached the state finals (2018) they also faced the Lady Hurricane, losing 57-44, playing a lineup heavily populated with freshmen and sophomores. Those same girls are now junior and seniors.
Last Thursday they needed 20 fourth quarter points to put Jonesboro away, 54-43, in the first-round of the 5A state tournament in Russellville’s Cyclone Arena.
Greenwood got points up and down the lineup and from all over the floor. Seven different players scored at least four points, and no one player scored more than 14.
The Lady Bulldogs trailed early, 4-2, before senior Harley Terry scored after an offensive rebound to tie the game. Junior Haven Clements then added a three-pointer and Terry followed with another inside basket.
In the second quarter, back-to-back buckets by junior guard Kinley Fisher, including her team’s last three-pointer of game at the 2:07 mark, was followed by a steal and layup, putting the Lady Bulldogs up, 25-15.
With time running out, they had to settle for a 26-17 advantage at the break, their aggressive defense holding the Lady Hurricane under 20 points for the half.
Greenwood still led by nine points, 32-23, at the 7:11 mark of the third period after a field goal by Clements and two free throws by junior guard Ally Sockey.
“They were more aggressive and attacked us a little harder,” said Coach Reeves of Jonesboro’s approach in the second half. “They had a sense of urgency.”
That strategy paid off temporarily for the Lady Hurricane, leading to a 7-0 scoring run to trim the GHS lead to 32-30 with 3:11 remaining in the third quarter.
GHS freshman Mady Cartwright finally answered Jonesboro’s run with an inside bucket, but two free throws kept Jonesboro close (34-32) at the end of the period.
“They’re extremely quick and athletic,” Reeves said of the Lady Hurricane. “They’re like our program and few other programs with great tradition and get here every year.
But it was Greenwood’s smothering defense then made the difference early in the fourth quarter, forcing five critical turnovers in the space of three minutes.
The first turnover came when Harley Terry stole a pass as Jonesboro opened the quarter with possession of the ball. Junior Shea Goodwin made it count with a pullup jump shot inside.
Jonesboro then threw away another pass on its next possession, and Fisher made them pay with a drive and a bucket. The next two miscues by the Lady Hurricane did not result in Greenwood points, but the fifth one did.
Goodwin made the steal and passed to Sockey for a fastbreak layup, putting the Lady Bulldogs ahead, 40-32, with 5:30 left to play, enough of a cushion that Jonesboro never really threatened again.
Kinley Fisher led her teammates with 14 points, followed by Ally Sockey with nine, and senior Jaelin Glass with eight points. Haven Clements scored seven points, while Harley Terry and Madi Cartwright had six each and Shea Goodwin added four points.
The first round of the state tournament featured a pair of huge upsets, with fourth seed Mountain Home of the 5A East knocking off Vilonia, the #1 seed from the West, and fourth seed Little Rock Parkview beating Lake Hamilton, the top seed from the 5A South.
Mountain Home also defeated Watson Chapel, the #2 seed from the 5A Central, putting the Lady Bombers in the semi-finals against top-seeded Nettleton (5A East).
Parkview lost their second-round contest to Little Rock Christian, the #3 seed from the West and the defending state champions from 2019. That matched the Lady Warriors against Greenwood in the semifinals last Saturday.
But along the way, Greenwood clinched its spot in the semifinals with a 38-point drubbing of Jacksonville, the #1 seed from the 5A Central, winning 74-36. The Lady Titans simply had no answer for Greenwood’s swarming defense and high-octane offense.
Last Friday Greenwood drained half-a-dozen three-pointers in the first quarter alone, in addition to forcing 10 turnovers in the opening eight minutes to take a commanding 23-3 lead after one period of play.
The Lady Bulldogs opened the game with an impressive 17-0 scoring run, sparked by Shea Goodwin. She began the fun with a three-pointer from the top of key, then added a driving bucket for a 5-0 lead.
Madi Cartwright ended the next two GHS possessions with consecutive treys from the corner, then Goodwin found Sockey wide open in the paint for an easy basket and a 13-0 lead.
Jaelin Glass added a charity shot and a three-pointer to push Greenwood’s lead to 17-0 with 1:13 remaining in the opening stanza. The Lady Bulldogs led 23-3 after a quarter and 30-9 early in the second period after a free throw and a basket by Harley Terry.
Greenwood led comfortably, 41-22, at the intermission and held a 58-29 advantage after three quarters before triggering the mercy rule early in the fourth. Jacksonville reached double digits in scoring in just one period, the second.
Kinley Fisher and sophomore Abby Summitt scored 13 points each to lead Greenwood. Jaelin Glass added 10 points, with Goodwin scoring eight, followed by senior Angela Price and sophomore Megan Gray with seven points each. Ally Sockey added six points, with Cartwright scoring four points.
It seems appropriate that the road back to the state finals would have to go through the Lady Warriors, the defending state champs from 2019. After losing all three times to Little Rock Christian last year, the Lady Bulldogs split the two games between the 5A West conference foes earlier this season.
Last Saturday night the two teams squared off again, with the winner moving on to face Nettleton in the Class 5A state title game, to be played Saturday in Hot Springs. Greenwood prevailed, 51-43.
The game was intense and physical as the two 5A heavyweights went at each other, with defense being the coin of the realm in the first half. Both teams got plenty of shots, but few of them found their mark in the first 16 minutes.
The Lady Bulldogs took charge early and led 14-8 after a quarter, extending their advantage slightly to 21-13 late in the half before leaving the court with a 21-17 edge at the break.
After the Lady Warriors tied the game at 23-all, Greenwood regrouped and rebuilt its lead to 38-29 after three quarters on the strength of a pair of treys by Abby Summitt and Jaelin Glass late in the period.
But Little Rock Christian made another charge in the fourth quarter. Trailing by 10 points, 43-33, the Lady Warriors put together an 8-0 scoring run, cutting the GHS lead to just two points at 43-41.
Kinley Fisher finally broke the GHS scoring drought with two free throws with 2:38 left and added four more charity points in the final minute to pad the lead. Shea Goodwin also contributed a pair of free throws. To help close out the eight-point win.
Fisher, Glass, and Summitt all scored 14 points for Greenwood.
After the game, Coach Reeves reflected on Greenwood’s run through the state tournament.
“I was thinking to myself that it would be sweet to get back [to the championship game] again this year, especially [after] having to miss last year,” he said. Reeves missed most of last season due to a medical issue.
“Something about this year,” he continued, “I felt like we were one of the best teams all year. I knew we had a great team. Our kids kept fighting and staying positive. It’s sweet to be back.”