Playing in what could be the penultimate championship of this high school sports season, the Quitman Lady Bulldogs season fell a little short of a state title Thursday after a 47-28 loss against Melbourne in Hot Springs.
The game in jeopardy of postponement as the spread of COVID-19 caused the Arkansas Activities Association decide on whether to completely postponing the state finals or allowing the night’s festivities.
The AAA came to the decision to continue the remaining two championship games Thursday night and postpone Friday and Saturday’s games, which meant Quitman basketball was underway.
The Lady Bulldogs tried to do one better than 2018 when they came up five points short of Earle at the state title game.
On the other side, Melbourne presented a tall task as it had won 2019’s state championship game over Earle, 71-57.
After a low-scoring 6-5 first quarter, which the Bearkatz had a slim advantage, Melbourne looked as though it was on a mission to repeat as state champions, going on an 18-0 run from the 6:34 mark to the 1:39 mark of the second quarter.
The game’s MVP sophomore guard Kenley McCarn said Melbourne coach Eric Teague wasn’t too pleased with his team’s performance in the first quarter.
“He definitely told us that was the worst quarter we have ever played,” she said. “He told us to get it together and knew we were going to pick it up. That second quarter is always really big in our game, so he just knew we had to step it up.”
The Bearkatz’s run started when freshman forward Jenna Lawrence scored on a layup, in which Lawrence was fouled, sending her to the free-throw line for an old-fashioned three-point play.
The and-one free throw was converted to put Melbourne up by two with 6:34 left in the second.
The run continued as the Lady Bulldogs were susceptible to turnovers and a stretch of poor shooting, while the Bearkatz took advantage of the miscues.
And, the presence Lawrence also helped stop a lot of Quitman scoring as she finished the game with seven blocks.
In the third quarter alone, Lawrence had three blocks.
Not only did Melbourne strike inside, but it also got scoring from the outside, which helped the offensive game open up.
Teague said after he got onto his team after the first quarter, he asked for input from his team on how they should attack on the offensive end.
“I got onto them a little bit, and then I looked them in the eyes and asked them what they wanted to do on offense and what they felt was going to be successful for us,” he said. “Kenley steps up and says, ‘Drive and kick, coach. They’re diving in. We’re going to be open on the outside.’ I said, ‘I’m trusting you. Let’s go do it.’ We hit several 3-pointers in that quarter.”
The 18-0 run was ended when Quitman senior forward Lacy Holland scored her 10th point of the game with 1:24 left in the half on a layup.
Holland scored on another layup about 40 seconds later, but her basket was sandwiched between a jumper in the paint by Melbourne junior guard Kiley Webb and a 3-pointer by Bearkatz junior guard Halle Weaver.
The third quarter was a bit more competitive as Melbourne again outscored the Lady Bulldogs 10-7.
But, much like the first quarter, the final frame was a low-scoring one as Quitman only managed seven points to the Bearkatz’s three.
The win secured Melbourne’s second consecutive state title and with just two seniors, the Bearkatz look like it will be a tough out once again in the 2020-21 season.
Eight seniors are graduating from Quitman.
Holland led all scorers with 14 points, 12 of which came in the first half. Holland also led the Lady Bulldogs in rebounds with seven.
The Bearkatz were led by Lawrence’s 11 points, while McCarn finished with a near double-double, finishing with eight points and 10 rebounds.