ALMA – Vilonia’s quest for a second straight 5A state title came to a screeching halt on Thursday.
Magnolia, the third seed from the Southwest, upset the Lady Eagles 43-40 in the quarterfinal round as Betsy Bartlett’s 3-point attempt hit the backboard and rolled off the right side of the rim as the buzzer sounded.
"The determining factor was the referees. I think I am entitled to my opinion," Vilonia coach Alvin Riley said. "When they saddle you up and ride you like a horse and don’t call a foul and then they call a bogus five seconds call on us – the referees were the determining factor. My team played hard and they didn’t deserve to get treated like that in this game. I thought it was bad."
Vilonia’s first lead of the game didn’t come until it was 4:01 left in the third quarter when Bailey Sisson popped a 3-pointer. Then, after forcing a steal on one end of the court, Vilonia’s Catherine Puckett went down and hit a lay-up, while drawing a foul, extending the Lady Eagles’ lead to 27-24, with 2:21 left in the quarter. Vilonia led 31-29 going into the fourth quarter. Puckett and Sisson led the team with 15 and 11.
Magnolia (19-8) took a three point lead midway through the fourth after a lay-up by Ashala Watson and a shot made on the low block by Kokeisha Leaks. With 1:42 left, Vilonia trailed 39-37 and Sisson was sent to the line, after being fouled on a three-point attempt. She converted on all foul shots, putting the Lady Eagles back ahead by one. The Lady Panthers’ Ashley Spaletta, who ended with a game-high, 17 points, added a basket, along with one free throw from Watson and one from Leaks, giving them a 43-40 advantage, with 21 seconds left.
"We told the girls all week that if we beat Blytheville then we were gonna beat Vilonia. They believed me and I didn’t know myself that it was possible," Magnolia coach Chris Lynch said. "We beat both of them and now I couldn’t be prouder of the girls."
Magnolia led the entire first half, starting with a 3-pointer from Demekia Baxter on the Lady Panthers’ opening possession. The Lady Panthers lead even got as big as seven points at 21-14, after Watson, who ended with 15 points, hit a mid-ranged jumper with 1:44. Vilonia got a much-needed 3-pointer from Kalyn Rappold with 45 seconds, which was her first up to that point. The Lady Panthers took a 21-17 lead into halftime.