Paragould gets another shot at a state championship, while Watson Chapel must wait to add to its trophy case.
Behind three players scoring in double figures, Paragould earned its second straight trip to the title game with a 52-42 victory over the tournament host Saturday in a 5A girls state semifinal at the Pine Bluff Convention Center. The Lady Wildcats’ run for a fourth state championship since 2008 ended two victories short at 22-7, their 17-game winning streak snapped.
“They’re a good basketball team,” Paragould coach Jay Cook said of Watson Chapel. “They posed some serious problems with their size and the way they shot it in the first half was different than what we had seen.”
Paragould (24-4) will play Jacksonville next weekend for the championship. Paragould lost to Greenwood in last year’s final.
The Lady Rams led the Lady Wildcats the entire game, but Kierra Cox knocked down a trio of three-point baskets in the second quarter, helping Watson Chapel narrow an 11-point deficit down to one. But a three by Sydney Layrock just before the first-half buzzer gave Paragould a 25-21 lead.
Layrock, a junior, finished with 17 points. Seniors Rachel Dicus and Savannah Walker had 14 and 13, respectively, for Paragould.
Watson Chapel was down 13-2 halfway through the first quarter as Paragould used a combination of backdoor offense and outside shooting for a quick start.
“Today, we hit some shots to get us going,” Cook said. “We tried to take advantage of some defensive mistakes they made and (we) made some plays.” Watson Chapel found a way to disrupt the backdoor offense and stuck within striking distance with its own three-point shooting. Senior Chelsea Payne scored all eight of Watson Chapel’s first-quarter points, including back-to-back threes to pull the Lady Wildcats within 13-8. Cox’s third trey with 33 seconds left before halftime shortened Paragould’s lead to 22-21, but Layrock’s trey swung momentum the Lady Rams’ way.
“We knew we were going to have to shoot it well from the outside because they scouted us,” Watson Chapel coach Leslie Henderson said. “They probably thought that wasn’t our strong point, and we do want to go inside. We knocked them down today, and that really changed the first half.”
Watson Chapel nailed six threes to Paragould’s four. Cox, a junior, scored all 12 of her points on treys.
The Lady Wildcats took the ball to the basket for much of the third quarter, but could not get the short-range shots to fall through the net. They were held to two field goals in the period, while a Dicus three and Walker jumper just before the buzzer extended the Lady Rams’ lead to 40-26.
“We got shots, but we didn’t finish them,” Henderson said. “That was the deciding factor, the third quarter.”
Senior Leonicia Hart scored seven of her nine points in the fourth as she helped Watson Chapel come within as close as 47-39, but Paragould hit 8 of 10 free throws in the final 2:05 to keep its distance from the Lady Wildcats.
Payne scored a team-high 15 points in her final game as a Lady Wildcat. Watson Chapel’s road to the semifinals wasn’t easy. Cox hit two free throws with 13.9 seconds left to give the Lady Wildcats a 29-28 victory over Nettleton on Tuesday, and they held off a late rally by Clarksville to win 45-41 Friday.
Against Paragould, Watson Chapel matched the intensity in a physical game, both teams often battling on the floor for loose balls in the final minutes. “I’m proud of the way we played,” Henderson said. “We hung in there, we did not quit. I’m proud of the girls. Good season.”