CAVE CITY – A year after being knocked out of the state tournament, the Malvern Lady Leopards returned the favor Saturday night by knocking out the defending champion Star City Lady Bulldogs 33-23 in the semifinals of the 4A state tournament at Cave City High School.
“We try not to harp on that too much,” Malvern head coach Jess Martin said. “It’s a game no matter who you play.
“At the same time, we kind of have a rivalry with them. It is really satisfying to win.
“I’m really pleased with the way we conducted ourselves.”
Malvern (31-2) defeated Star City (28-6) by 14 points in the 4A South Region championship game last Saturday.
“We knew it was going to be a hard game coming in,” Martin said. “Becky (Brown) does such a great job with those kids.
“We responded when the game was on the line and the kids stepped up.
“I’m pleased to be where we are at.”
Malvern will now play Prairie Grove in the 4A state final next weekend in Little Rock at Barton Coliseum.
A low scoring game throughout, Star City was able to get the deficit to just two points with 1:20 left in the game.
But a basket by Malvern senior Shakara Penix and an offensive foul on Star City’s Kindra Redix with 47 seconds left put the game out of reach for the Lady Bulldogs.
“I think we carried out our game plan exceptionally well defensively,” Brown said. “They did get more offensive rebounds than we wanted them to.
“Of course they are really good at rebounding.”
To begin the fourth quarter, Star City took a 20-19 lead with 7:17 left in the game after Malvern’s Alivia Huell was charged with an offensive foul and a technical foul.
Star City sophomore Jaida Harden hit the two free throws to give the Lady Bulldogs their first lead since the first quarter. The back-to-back fouls on Huell gave her five fouls on the night.
“We could have easily gotten down when the Huell girl fouled out,” Martin said. “We did a good job of keeping our composure.
“I was really pleased with the way they handled themselves.”
After Huell fouled out, sophomore Raven Baker hit a three-pointer with 6:15 left and again with 4:37 left to give the Lady Leopards a 25-20 lead.
“We had some costly turnovers in the third and the start of the fourth quarter that hurt us a little bit,” Brown said.
Malvern closed out the game with a 6-0 run, including a steal and an easy bucket from Baker as the game ended.
“Turnovers hurt us,” Brown said. “But we had some young kids on the floor. I thought they did an outstanding job this year getting here.
“I’m really proud of them.”
Baker led Malvern with 16 points with four three-pointers on the night. Tiffany Murdock contributed with nine points.
Robinson and Jaida Harden led Star City with eight points. Robinson was 4 of 6 from the free throw line and Harden was 6 of 6.
Tyeshia Harris contributed with six points.