HOT SPRINGS — North Little Rock's Lady Charging Wildcats, with a well-oiled machine that kicked into high gear, surged past a young Conway team Thursday for the 7A state girls championship.
The Lady Cats (27-4), making their fourth title appearance in five years, never led after 7:08 of the first quarter and chased the Lady Charging Wildcat dust on the way to a 66-49 victory at Bank of the Ozarks Arena.
NLR (28-3) shot 53.5 from the field and held Conway to 36 on seven-of-28 shooting from 3-point range.
The teams had split the regular season with Conway winning by four and losing by five.
"They are a senior-laden team and I think they are the best team," said Conway coach Ashley Nance. "I think the two best teams were playing."
"For the past two weeks, our girls have had great focus on offense and defense," said NLR coach Daryl Fimple, whose team six regulars from last year's team that lost to Fayetteville in the finals. "The way we have been playing, I don't think anyone can beat us."
"When I saw they beat Little Rock Central, 77-39, in the finals, I said, 'Whoa.'" said Nance.
The Charging Wildcats contained Conway guards Myia Yelder and Asiyha Smith from getting into any kind of rhythm and each left the court for junctures because of foul trouble. The two Conway guards combined for 29 points. NLR guards Jordan Neal, Amber Hawkinson, Demyla Brown and An'nyah Pettus combined for 49 points and nicely handled Conway's pressure.
"Conway had shot 46 free throws in the state tournament," said Fimple. "They shot seven today. We did a good job of stopping their penetration and keeping them off the foul line."
"Their guards are so much better handling the ball than when we played them before," said Nance. "They hit shots. Defensively, it makes it tough with a 6-3 post (Yo'Maris Morris in the middle."
The major turning point occurred with 5:37 left in the third quarter to trim a 10-point deficit to seven forcing a NLR timeout.
Brown responded with a 3-pointer, then Tucker Kennedy beat the Conway defense for a layoff. Hawkinson followed another turnover with a layup to push the lead to 41-37. Conway never got closer than niine.
"Every time we made a run, they got a turnover or made a big shot," saod Nance. "They are so balanced, inside and outside We are an outside team."
Twenty-eight of Conway's 50 shots were 3-point attempts. The Lady Cats made seven. NLR had a 38-18 edge in points in the paint.
Yelder led CHS with 15 points and Smith had 14.
"With one returning starter and four players with JV experience, I'm proud of what we accomplished," Nance said. "That's a tribute to this team's work ethic."