Lady Bobcats take control late to win Round 1 in double OT
LONOKE -- Alex McCallister was determined to not let Berryville's season end in the first round of the Class 4A State Tournament Thursday afternoon.
The transfer from Marshall buried a three-pointer as time expired in regulation to tie the game, nailed another with 2.6 seconds remaining in overtime to force a second extra frame, and Berryville outlasted Heber Springs 66-59 in double overtime to advance to today's second round of the event at the Gina Cox Center at Lonoke High School.
McCallister, who scored the game's first point on a free throw and was then held scoreless until the long-range bomb at the end of regulation, said she had as much faith in taking the final shot as her teammates had in her taking it.
"They put it all on me," McCallister said "I am grateful that I have a team that has confidence in me. I am not the best defensive player and I will be the first to admit it. Coach (Daniel Cornelison) was subbing me in and out and I was okay with that. He sent me in and told me where to go. I knew (the shot) was going in before I even caught the ball. I had that mindset. I am a shooter. I know how to shoot. And I was not letting my team down."
McCallister struggled from the field during regulation, missing on all three attempts from beyond the arc. She was harassed by the Lady Panthers the entire game, but found a way to get open when it mattered and Aleksei Smith made a stellar pass to get the ball in McCallister's hands.
"I was a little iffy on the second one," McCallister said. "The girl at the bottom was helping more than the first time. But I knew I had to catch the ball and knock it down. I was not ready for this season to be over."
In the early stages, it appeared as if the season would end on Thursday. The Lady Bobcats (21-11) trailed by 13 at halftime as Heber Springs commanded the first half behind senior point guard Skylar Johnson, who had 10 of her game-leading 24 points in the first two periods.
Berryville coach Daniel Cornelison made some adjustments in the locker room during the break, resulting in the Lady Cats outscoring the Lady Panthers 14-7 in the third period to trail by six, 38-32, entering the fourth period.
"We knew at halftime we didn't do everything we needed to do in the first half, especially defensively," Cornelison said. "We just didn't do a very good job on the defensive end. And they were disappointed in that. So we made some adjustments and it was huge."
Berryville started trapping the Lady Panthers at mid-court in the third period as Heber Springs' Skylar Johnson and Makenzie Martin ran into foul trouble, both eventually fouling out in the second overtime period. Without both seniors on the floor at all times, the Lady Bobcats created multiple turnover opportunities, opening up the scoring for Berryville.
Allison Smith, who led the No. 3-seeded Lady Cats with 19 points, got things going in the third frame with a short jumper to lead the comeback while Sara Johnson scored twice in the paint and Britni Smith knocked down a couple of free throws. Britni Smith made her only trey of the game early in the fourth and Allison Smith followed with back-to-back threes while Ally Teague connected from long range for the fifth basket of the frame from beyond the arc.
"We knew we could score," Cornelison said. "We just knew we couldn't match them score for score because we were down quite a bit. Once we did that we settled in and started playing a little bit."
But it was McCallister's buzzer-beater that sent the game into overtime and the Heber Springs crowd into disbelief as Berryville's fans rallied their troops.
"Allison hit some huge threes down the stretch and Alex McCallister, are you kidding me? Those were the biggest threes of her life," Cornelison said. "She's one of the best shooters I have ever coached. She can flat shoot the basketball."
After the two teams traded seven-point efforts in the first extra frame, Berryville took control in the second overtime, scoring the first seven points for a 63-56 advantage. Allison Smith and Aleksei Smith, who finished with 12 points, combined for 6-of-7 free throws to give the Lady Cats the cushion with 1:09 left in the game. Following a Skylar Johnson trey on the other end to close the gap to 64-59 with 31.9 left, Aleksei Smith made 1-of-2 and Allison Smith came up with a steal and made one more free throw to seal the win.
"Allison Smith...game of her life and what a moment to do it in," Cornelison said. "She has complete confidence to shoot the three. It's not something she does a lot because she's so good at attacking the basket. Tonight they were playing that zone and she stood out there and hit big shots."
A senior, Allison Smith said she had no choice but to make the most of the opportunity.
"You have to," she said. "When you get to the state tournament every team is good. You have to give it everything you've got. This probably was the game of my life. I am not going to lie."
Britni Smith was solid at the line, connecting on all six attempts and finished with 11 points, assuring the senior at least one more game in her stellar career. Sophomore Ally Teague added nine points, including a key three-pointer in the fourth period as Berryville made it's final charge. Senior Sara Johnson finished with eight and dominated the paint with 10 boards.
Berryville will play top-seeded Malvern (27-2) in today's quarterfinals. Malvern's only two losses of the year were a 53-48 loss to Hot Springs on Dec. 28, and a 54-32 loss to Rock Bridge, Mo., on Dec 12. The Lady Leopards are ranked No. 1 in Class 4A and No. 3 overall in the state.