Queens of the Court: Gritty effort lifts Lady Bobcats to tournament title
By Scott Loftis
With four senior starters gone from last year’s team that finished as the Class 4A state runner-up, preseason expectations weren’t particularly high for the Berryville Lady Bobcats.
Apparently, the Lady Bobcats have other ideas.
Berryville swept three games on the way to winning its second consecutive Queens of the Court tournament championship, culminating in a hard-fought 49-44 victory over Pea Ridge in Saturday night’s championship game at Green Forest.
Junior point guard Lilli Compton made six three-pointers and scored 24 points and the Lady Bobcats played a gritty brand of basketball, diving on the floor for loose balls and battling for every rebound against their 4A-1 conference rivals.
“That was a good win,” Berryville coach Daniel Cornelison said. “The girls played really, really hard.”
That all-out effort, Cornelison said, may be what defines this team.
“We preach that, and we preach about trying to find our identity as a team,” he said. “That’s been our focus, and I think maybe it’s starting to take shape.”
Compton, who set a career scoring high, had 18 points in the second half. She made four three-pointers and scored 14 points in the third quarter alone.
“She has that ability,” Cornelison said. “She’s a good shooter.”
Compton’s first two three-pointers came in a span of less than one minute midway through the second quarter as the Lady Bobcats turned into a 17-14 deficit into a 22-21 halftime lead.
Compton added two more three-pointers in the first two minutes of the third quarter, sandwiched around a putback basket by senior Lexy Anderson as Berryville opened with an 8-0 run and stretched its lead to 30-21.
Pea Ridge answered with five consecutive points but Compton’s three-pointer from the left wing put the Lady Bobcats up 33-26. She added an 18-foot jumper at the 2:34 mark, then poured in another three-pointer from the right wing with 6.5 seconds left as Berryville finished the third quarter with a 39-32 advantage.
“Our guards are going to have to be able to knock down shots,” Cornelison said. “We want quality shots. We always preach about making the extra pass.”
Compton scored 14 of the Lady Bobcats’ 17 third-quarter points. Maybe more important, however, was her leadership on the floor.
“She’s the point guard,” Cornelison said. “That’s where a lot of that has to come from. The position dictates that. And she’ll be the first to tell you she definitely has some room to improve. But she’s starting to embrace that role.”
Berryville widened its lead to double digits on a three-point play by senior forward Jordan Estepp with 6:53 left in the third quarter, but Pea Ridge responded with a 9-0 run to shave its deficit to one at 42-41.
After a Berryville timeout, junior Abby Thurman made a pair of free throws for a 44-41 lead with 3:06 left. After a free throw by Pea Ridge, Thurman made the second of two with 1:18 left to make it 45-42. The Lady Blackhawks missed a three-pointer on their next possession and Compton’s free throw gave Berryville a two-possession lead at 46-42 with 30.1 seconds left. Compton then made three of four free throws in the final 19.1 seconds to finish the victory for Berryville.
Anderson and Estepp each added 10 points for Berryville.
In the third game of the season for each team, the atmosphere was more akin to a postseason matchup, with a boisterous pro-Berryville crowd adding to the ambience.
“We’ve had a lot of tough battles with Pea Ridge,” Cornelison said. “It’s a rivalry.”
When the smoke cleared, the Lady Bobcats were holding the first-place trophy.
“I couldn’t be prouder of their effort,” Cornelison said. “Expectations aren’t very high, because of what we lost, so I think they have a little chip on their shoulder. They like to win, because they’ve been part of a winning program. We won’t win every game; we’re not that good. But they’re going to fight you to win.”