Flippin rallies to nip Lady Highlanders
By Scott Loftis
YELLVILLE — Part of building a successful basketball program is learning to win close games. The Eureka Springs Lady Highlanders aren’t quite there. Yet.
On Tuesday, Flippin fought back from a 15-point deficit midway through the second quarter to beat Eureka Springs 43-42 in the semifinals of the 2A-1 conference tournament at Yellville.
Fourth-seeded Flippin (11-18) led for less than two minutes in the entire game, but made two go-ahead baskets in the final 49.5 seconds to beat the top-seeded Lady Highlanders (22-13), the regular-season conference champions.
“We have to learn to finish teams off, keep our foot on the gas,” said first-year Eureka Springs coach Ryan Sanchez.
Eureka Springs took its biggest lead of the game at 25-10 when junior Katelyn Ross made a three-pointer from the right baseline with 4:05 left in the second quarter. But Flippin closed the first half with a 10-2 run to cut the Lady Highlanders’ lead to seven, 27-20, by halftime.
The Lady Bobcats chipped away in the third quarter, pulling within one point, 33-32, on a three-pointer with 3:57 left in the third quarter.
Eureka Springs junior forward Megan Holloway had five of the Lady Highlanders’ points during a 7-0 run that pushed the lead back to 40-32 with 6:52 left in the fourth quarter. But Eureka Springs scored just two more points the rest of the way as Flippin fought back to steal the victory.
“Flippin was definitely the aggressor,” Sanchez said. “The moment seemed too big for us at times.”
Down the stretch, the Lady Highlanders were plagued by turnovers and missed shots. Leading 40-39, Eureka Springs took possession with 1:28 left and got a shot close to the basket. But the ball didn’t fall. Flippin got the rebound but the Lady Bobcats were called for a travel. Disaster struck for the Lady Highlanders on their next possession when Flippin stole the ball and converted a layup in transition to take its first lead since the 6:51 mark of the first quarter.
Junior guard Gracie Lester made two free throws with 35.4 seconds left to put Eureka Springs back in front at 42-41, but a Flippin layup with 23.5 seconds left put the Lady Bobcats ahead to stay.
The Lady Highlanders had one final shot, but missed with 11.1 seconds left. The ball went out of bounds to Flippin, which was then able to run out the clock.
Lester scored a season-high 17 points to lead Eureka Springs, including 13 in the first half. Holloway added 11 and junior forward Shelby Little scored nine for the Lady Highlanders.
“We just shot ourselves in the foot,” Sanchez said. “We missed a lot of layups. Turnovers were an issue, too, toward the end. It’s just not finishing, being strong with the ball.”
Sanchez pointed out that the Lady Highlanders have struggled to win close games this season. Perhaps that’s to be expected from a team that doesn’t have a senior on its roster and is still growing after winning just nine games over the previous four seasons.
“That’s a maturation process, learning to relish in that moment and welcome it,” Sanchez said.
Eureka Springs will play Decatur in the third-place game of the conference tournament at 4 p.m. Friday. Depending on the outcome of that game, the Lady Highlanders will open play in the 2A West Regional Tournament in Danville on Wednesday, Feb. 20, or Thursday. Feb. 21.