'One last run' Seniors lead Lady Highlanders into state tournament
By Scott Loftis
The Eureka Springs Lady Highlanders will go into the Class 2A State Tournament on a winning note.
The Lady Highlanders will face Bigelow in a first-round state tournament game at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Quitman High School. They’ll enter the tournament as a No. 3 seed after beating Hector 62-41 Saturday in the 2A West Regional Tournament at Highlander Arena.
Eureka Springs, which will make its first state tournament appearance in 11 years, is led by a core of five seniors, all starters for the Lady Highlanders.
“They’re excited about going to the state tournament, and the excitement around our program,” Eureka Springs coach Ryan Sanchez said. “Getting to travel to do that, they’re excited about. We have one last run at it to make the most of their senior year.”
Senior forwards Megan Holloway and Shelby Little scored 21 points apiece in the victory over Hector and the Lady Highlanders took the lead for good less than two minutes into the game.
Senior guard Katelyn Ross dropped in a three-pointer from the right baseline with 6:12 remaining in the first quarter to put Eureka Springs ahead 7-3, and the Lady Highlanders were in control the rest of the way.
Ross’ three-pointer was the first of four for Eureka Springs in the first half. Ross had two of those and sophomore Olivia Cross came off the bench to add two more — including a shot from the right baseline with seven seconds left in the quarter to push the Lady Highlanders’ lead to 20-11.
Eureka Springs held Hector to four points over the final five and a half minutes of the second quarter. A Ross three-pointer made it 30-15 with 4:06 left in the half and the Lady Highlanders led 36-19 at halftime.
If there was any suspense left, Eureka Springs dispelled it quickly to start the second half. Little had five points and Holloway added four during a 10-3 run. Holloway’s basket off a pass from senior guard Grayson Ertel pushed the Lady Highlanders’ lead to 46-22 with 3:33 left in the third quarter.
Eureka Springs (18-14) dropped into the third-place game after losing to Flippin 44-40 in a semifinal game Friday. The Lady Highlanders erased an eight-point deficit with less than five minutes remaining and took a 40-39 lead on a basket by Ertel with a minute and a half left. But Flippin regained the lead with a basket off an inbounds pass and Eureka Springs couldn’t convert on three consecutive offensive possessions. With the Lady Highlanders forced to foul, Flippin scored its final three points from the free-throw line and was able to secure its third victory in four games this season against Eureka Springs.
“Flippin does a really good job man to man and they take you out of everything that you want to do,” Sanchez said.
Lester led Eureka Springs with 13 points against Flippin, with Lester adding nine.
Sanchez said Bigelow (27-3), which lost to Quitman by two points in the 2A Central Regional, is reminiscent of Valley Springs — a traditional Class 3A power that won the 3A-1 Regional on Saturday.
“They have five or six guards that they play, and they’re just real athletic,” Sanchez said.
Limiting turnovers will be a key for the Lady Highlanders.
“And being patient on offense,” Sanchez said. “They’ll do a 1-3-1 trapping zone.”
With the 6-foot Little and the 6-3 Holloway, Eureka Springs hopes its size will help against Bigelow.
“Having size definitely makes attacking the zone easier because you’re able to see over the top,” Sanchez said.