2019's Top Sports Stories, No. 1: Loss in title game ends an era for Lady Bobcats
By Scott Loftis
After knocking on the door three times, the Berryville Lady Bobcats finally pushed their way into the Class 4A state championship game in 2019.
In their fourth consecutive state semifinal appearance, the Lady Bobcats defeated conference rival Harrison 54-38 on March 2 in Magnolia to advance to the state championship game for the first time.
The Lady Bobcats lost the championship game to Batesville by a score of 72-66 on March 7 at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs, but their march to the title game is the No. 1 sports story of 2019 in Carroll County.
Berryville was led by four senior starters — Kelcee Hopper, McKenna Hussey, Hannah Morrell and Baylea Smith. Morrell and Smith were four-year starters for the Lady Bobcats, while Hopper was a varsity player as a freshman and a three-year starter.
Berryville’s path to the state championship game wasn’t an easy one. The Lady Bobcats lost to Farmington in the championship game of the district tournament at Harrison, then fell to Harrison in the championship game of the 4A North Regional Tournament in Morrilton.
Entering the state tournament as a No. 2 seed, the Lady Bobcats were hampered by foul trouble in a first-round game against Warren and trailed by 10 points late in the third quarter before taking control with an 18-0 run. Berryville went on to a 56-46 victory.
The Lady Bobcats needed another second-half comeback to get past Pulaski Academy in the state quarterfinals, rallying from a 11-point deficit to win 61-50.
After losing twice in three previous meetings with Harrison, Berryville won the one that mattered most. Smith made three three-pointers in the first half and four altogether and the Lady Bobcats outscored Harrison 32-12 in the second half to win 54-38 and finally reach the state championship game.
Going into the matchup against a talented Batesville team, Berryville coach Daniel Cornelison said the Lady Bobcats wanted to control the tempo, get open shots for their guards to open up the inside and limit their turnovers against Batesville’s smothering press.
They nearly pulled it off.
The Lady Bobcats shot 61.9 percent (26 of 42) from the floor, including 7 of 10 from three-point range, compared with 42.3 percent (22 of 52) for the Lady Pioneers, who made just five of 20 three-point attempts. Berryville also outrebounded Batesville 28-24. But the Lady Bobcats committed 20 turnovers, while the Lady Pioneers had just six.
Berryville led 46-42 with 57 seconds left in the third quarter, but two turnovers allowed Batesville to score twice for a 46-46 tie. That started a 16-2 run for the Lady Pioneers, who led the rest of the way.
After the game, Cornelison talked about the impact of the Lady Bobcats’ seniors, who helped the team win 107 games over a four-year span. Berryville went 63-8 over their final two seasons.
“I told them in the locker room: ‘You have no idea what you’ve done for our community and our school,’ ” Cornelison said. “It won’t set in for years, probably, exactly how important they have been to us.”