It may be 2022, but that old nemesis Covid-19 is still around and interfering with sports schedules across the country, both in the professional and amateur ranks. Such is the case this week with the Greenwood Lady Bulldogs and their conference game at Russellville on Friday night. Earlier in the week the GHS athletic department was notified that the Lady Cyclones would be unable to answer the bell and the 5A West opener was cancelled, presumably to be made up later.
Similar cancellations took place last season, so many in fact that the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) required many conferences to hold tournaments at the end of the regular season to determine seeding for the various state tournaments. Rumor has it that the AAA will be meeting next week to discuss the protocols for this season considering the explosion of Covid infections across the state and around the nation, mostly the new and less severe Omicron variant.
So the GHS girls got some extra practice time this week as they look forward to opening conference play at home next Tuesday night against Van Buren. The GHS boys were still scheduled to play the Cyclones Friday night at Russellville. They will also host Van Buren in their home conference opener next Tuesday at H.B. Stewart Arena.
But Head Coach Clay Reeves and his girls have been busy since classes ended on December 17th, playing five games in less than two weeks, winning three of them to improve to 10-4 overall on the season, three of those losses at the hands of very solid Class 6A teams. Their other loss was to a talented Vilonia team in the finals of the Beebe tournament.
North Little Rock
On December 17th the Lady Bulldogs hosted the Lady Wildcats in a clash of basketball titans pitting representatives from the state’s two highest classifications, 5A and 6A, and it was a classic battle. Each team won two quarters offensively and both squads had one quarter of lackluster scoring under double digits.
Playing in the confines of H.B. Stewart Arena, the GHS girls jumped out to a 14-9 lead after one period. But the visitors rallied in the second quarter to tie the game at halftime, 27-all. But the NLR girls continued their good play into the third quarter while Greenwood struggled offensively, scoring just seven points in the period.
But trailing 42-34 at the start of the fourth stanza, the Lady Bulldogs exploded for 25 points over the final eight minutes, yet it wasn’t enough. Greenwood trailed 55-49 with two minutes remaining, and 57-52 with a minute left to play. But a NLR turnover led to a drive and layup by Mady Cartwright, making the score 57-54 (:40).
After trading baskets, it was still a three-point game with 18 seconds left and the Lady ‘Cats kept possession of the ball until fouled with 4.5 seconds left. But the shooter, junior April Edwards, NLR’s best player, missed both free throws, giving Mady Cartwright an opportunity to tie the game by hitting a three-pointer at the buzzer, sending the contest into overtime.
The Lady Wildcats took an early two-point lead in the OT period, but Greenwood scored four consecutive points to take their final lead at 63-61 inside the two-minute mark. NLR then tied the score at 63-all (1:30) and took the lead with a free throw (64-63). Mady Cartwright knotted the score one last time with a free throw with 5.5 seconds remaining, missing her first attempt and making her second.
North Little Rock then quickly inbounded the ball to Edwards, who dribbled across halfcourt and let go a driving shot from the free throw line that careened off the backboard not one, but twice, before falling through the net for the winning score, sending the Lady Wildcats into a frenzy of celebration.
Obviously disappointed in the last second defeat, the Lady Bulldogs lined up and congratulated the visitors on the win, showing great sportsmanship. Despite the outcome, the game did not disappoint those fans in attendance and the GHS girls are certainly a better team having played North Little Rock, one of the contenders for the 6A state title this season.
Offensively, Mady Cartwright had a great game, scoring 26 points, followed by Carley Sexton’s 13 points. Abby Summitt chipped in with 10 points while Anna Trusty added nine points. Among Sexton’s 13 points were a trio of three-pointers.
Regarding the last second winner by the Lady Wildcats, Coach Reeves was philosophical. “They made a good play. They drove in and shot an off-balance shot and it bounced around and went in. Watching the video [later], Adrianna [Rusin] took a picture-perfect charge. I didn’t notice it at the time,” acknowledging that blocking and charging calls are among the most difficult for officials to make, especially in the final seconds of a game. “It was a hard shot that just went in.”
Asked about the play of his team against such a tough 6A opponent, Coach Reeves was more than pleased. “They competed hard. It seems the better and tougher the competition, the better we play. We’ve just got to play that way every night, whoever we play. We’re just trying to get all of our players to be a little more consistent.”
At home on the 21st against the Lady Tigers, Greenwood trailed for much of the game before a big offensive fourth quarter propelled them to a 56-47 victory. The GHS girls fell behind 13-10 after one period and 21-17 at the half. They nearly held their own in the third quarter and trailed 36-31 at the start of the final stanza.
But the home team dominated the visitors over the final eight minutes, outscoring Bentonville by a goodly margin, 25-11, for the win. Mady Cartwright topped the Greenwood scoring chart with 25 points, followed by Anna Trusty with 17 and sophomore Carley Sexton with seven points.
“I didn’t think we played very well in the first three quarters,” said Reeves. “We weren’t [shooting] very well and our intensity wasn’t as good as it needed to be, and that’s on me. But in the fourth quarter we picked up a little more full court [defense] and spread out and applied a little more pressure, and that disrupted what [Bentonville] was doing. We got some steals and got to the basket. Our intensity picked up and we hit a few shots.”
Greenwood’s first opponent in the Beebe tournament (December 28-20) was Class 5A Jacksonville, a team the Lady Bulldogs could see again in the post-season. The GHS girls controlled the game from start to finish, scoring in double figures in every quarter for the 68-47 victory.
Mady Cartwright got into early foul trouble, but Anna Trusty stepped up big time to score 27 points and take up much of the offensive slack. Cartwright finished with seven points while senior teammates Megan Gray and Abby Summitt had 12 and 10 points, respectively. A few days later Summitt was named as the basketball homecoming queen this season.
The Lady Bulldogs won the opening period, 14-12, but led at the break, 37-26, after a 23-point second quarter. They gave a little ground in the third quarter, but still led by 50-41 heading into the final eight minutes of play. An 18-6 blowout in the fourth quarter accounted for the final margin of 21 points.
“It was a closer than that,” explained Reeves. “It was a pretty close game, probably about a 10-point [margin] for most of the game, then we scored some at the end. [Jacksonville] is one of the top 5A schools, quick and athletic, and plays hardnose defense, so that game really helped us also.”
Game two at Beebe the following day was against Rogers-Heritage, one of many 6A schools the Lady Bulldogs have played during the non-conference portion of their schedule. But once again a consistent offensive showing in all four quarters made it tough on the Lady War Eagles to keep pace with Greenwood.
The Lady Bulldogs jumped out to a big lead, 18-10, after one period, and 37-19 at the intermission. Heritage actually outscored Greenwood 26-24 in the second half, but it wasn’t nearly enough to overcome their halftime deficit. At the final buzzer the GHS girls had notched their 10th victory of the season, 61-47, and advanced to the tournament finals.
Balanced scoring was the name of the game against Heritage, with four Lady Bulldogs in double figures offensively. Anna Trusty had 17 to lead the pack, followed by Abby Summitt with 15, Megan Gray with 14, and Mady Cartwright with 11. Grey had four three-pointers, all in the first half, and Summitt hit three for the game.
“We were always in control,” said the coach, describing the flow of the game. “We had a good lead then let them cut it to eight or ten [points]. We had a couple [players] foul out and we didn’t shoot really well. But when they cut it to eight or ten, we got it back up close to 20 again.”
The tournament championship game featured a pair of 5A West conference rivals, Greenwood and Vilonia. But on that night it was the Lady Eagles who prevailed, 45-38. The Lady Bulldogs didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, said Coach Reeves after the loss, nor did they play with their usual intensity.
Still, Greenwood led 13-10 after one period and 26-24 at the half. But a poor offensive showing netted just eight points in the third quarter, allowing Vilonia to go on top, 37-34. Neither team reached double digits in points in the fourth period, but even then the Lady Eagles doubled Greenwood’s scoring output, 8-4, for the win. Mady Cartwright and Anna Trusty each had 14 points for the Lady Bulldogs.
Asked about the poor offensive performance in the second half, Coach Reeves said, “It wasn’t for lack of shots. We got great shots, we just didn’t shoot a very high percentage, field goal percentage or free throws. We played hard on defense, rebounded well, and didn’t turn the ball over. But we missed a few free throws, we missed a layup, and we didn’t shoot well from the three-point line. I know we won’t shoot that bad again. I just hope our defense, rebounding, and intensity will [remain].”
The Lady Bulldogs hope to makeup Friday’s lost game at Russellville. But in the meantime, they will host Van Buren next Tuesday at H.B. Stewart Arena before traveling to Vilonia for a rematch next Friday. Along with the GHS boys, they will be at home the following Tuesday against Siloam Springs before making the long trek to Mountain Home on Friday the 21st.
Asked about the cancellation of the Russellville game and how that might change his practice plans, Coach Reeves appeared to take it all in stride. “Van Buren is our next opponent, and they are similar [to Russellville]. So we will just keep preparing like we were. It will just change our intensity in practice a little bit over the next couple days. We just need to keep getting better, and this group will.”
As for the shadow of Covid still lurking in the background, Reeves said, “It could be anybody. Just from what I’m hearing from all over the state, I think a lot of teams are going to have some delays and uncertainty. There’s nothing any of us can do about it but try to keep ourselves healthy and keep sharp in practice and stay prepared. I think the AAA is meeting next week to discuss a lot of this stuff. They’re going to have to make some decisions on how to keep things going.”