CLINTON -- Clinging to a 29-11 advantage at halftime, the defending Class 2A state champion Melbourne Lady Bearkatz continued their hot start to the 2020 campaign with a 46-39 triumph over Class 6A Springdale Har-Ber in the championship game of the First Service Bank Tournament this past Saturday night at Clinton High School.
Melbourne jumped out to an early 8-0 lead on a driving layup from junior guard Josie Roark, a turnaround shot in the paint from freshman Jenna Lawrence and four straight combined makes from the charity stripe for both players, claiming a 13-3 lead after the first eight minutes thanks in due to sweltering Lady Bearkat defense as well as a Lawrence make from the right elbow after hauling in her own miss on a three-pointer. The Lady Wildcats were held scoreless until the 4:45 mark when freshman Pacious McDaniel split at the free throw line, going without a field goal until sophomore Caylan Koons came through with a basket from in close with two seconds remaining.
The Lady Bearkatz continued their onslaught in the second quarter with a 16-6 run that was sparked by a three-pointer from sophomore guard Kenley McCarn from the left wing after dribbling back out on an offensive rebound, clipping on two free throws before junior guard Kiley Webb added a finish at the cup and a coast-to-coast finish, capping off the drive with a trifecta from junior Halle Weaver, containing Har-Ber to only two field goals, one from freshman freshman Mary Blake Martfield and another from Koons in the lane, setting the score at 29-11 at the halftime intermission.
Junior Kania Starks got the Lady Wildcats on the board first in the second half, scoring on a backdoor cut before draining a three, as McCarn drilled a triple of her own with 20 ticks left to take a 37-22 lead into the fourth and final quarter.
Down but not out, Har-Ber got back into the contest after reeling off a 12-5 run over four minutes to pull within five, getting two trifectas from Koons and an old-fashioned three-point play from McDaniel to make it 39-34, forcing a Melbourne timeout.
Out of the short break, the Lady Bearkatz put the affair away with four straight points on a backdoor finish from Roark on a feed from Lawrence before Lawrence used her 6-1 frame to score on a putback, going up by double digits on a wide-open three-pointer from Webb from the left side, holding on the rest of the way.
Lawrence led the victors with a team-high 16 points, getting a near double-double performance from McCarn who pumped in nine points and nine rebounds as Webb chipped in with nine points. Har-Ber (2-1), whose path to the finals included wins over Nemo Vista (60-26) and Rural Special (60-18), were paced by 17 points from Koons, adding 10 from McDaniel into the equation.
"I thought our girls played a really great first half," exclaimed Melbourne head coach Eric Teague. "They showed a lot of energy on defense and the offense was flowing pretty well. Har-Ber is a very intense defensive-minded team and they came out ready to win in the second half. We were able to hold them off, so kudos to my girls for hanging in there."
The Lady Bearkatz improved to 4-0 to stay perfect on the young season, defeating Pottsville 53-37 and Quitman 59-43 to reach the title game.
"It just shows the character this team has built over the last few years," added Teague, when asked about the final run the Lady Bearkatz were able to piece together down the stretch. "It instills confidence into my other players when they are ready to step in and fill some roles. We lost a few from last year, but we have some girls stepping up and I'm very proud of them."
Melbourne will return from the Thanksgiving break with a three-game week, playing host to Mammoth Spring (8-2) next Monday before making the trek to Highland (0-2) on Thursday, returning home on Friday to welcome Buffalo Island Central (1-8).