Pine Bluff’s Jasmyn Eckermann shoots over Sheridan defenders in Friday’s 53-49 win at McFadden Gymnasium. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)
Pine Bluff head coach Loy Moore believes all the pressure is on the Benton Lady Panthers in today’s 7A/6A-South Conference title showdown at Benton Arena.
“I’m not too worry about that part of it,” Moore said. “To me, the pressure is on them. They were picked first in the preseason coaches poll and we were picked sixth.
“With the youth we have, nobody expected us to do well. Then when we lost Kye Richardson, people thought things would slide but here we are.
“Honestly, I think the pressure is on them. Everybody expects them to win.”
Benton had an opportunity to secure at least a share of the conference title on Friday but lost 34-32 to El Dorado for its first conference loss of the year.
With Pine Bluff edging Sheridan at home on Friday, the two teams will square off for the regular-season championship and a shot at the No. 1 seed in the state tournament.
“We are putting our eggs in one basket,” Benton head coach Jerry Chumley said. “We are excited about the opportunity.
“Pine Bluff is going to give everything they’ve got. We should get a great effort from both teams.”
Chumley said if you are a fan of the league, then this is how you envision the season ending.
Benton defeated Pine Bluff 39-30 on Jan. 25 to hand the Fillies their only conference loss of the season. Pine Bluff senior Ajia Richardson led Pine Bluff with nine points and Benton sophomore Braylee Landreth had 10.
“Defensively we didn’t do a bad job last game,” Moore said. “If we can keep it in the 30s again and make a few more shots, I think we have chance.”
The Lady Panthers won the 6A-South Conference title last season. Benton has three returning starters from last season, including two seniors who have started all three years: Madi Brooks and Kori Parker.
“Hopefully that will help us down the stretch,” Chumley said. “Last year when we clinched it, it was in front of a big crowd.
“Loy has some kids that have played in some big games too, though. Really it is going to come down to who executes and who takes care of the ball.
“It should be a great game.”
When the two teams played in January, it was a very physical match. Moore knows the Fillies will see more of the same today.
“Last time, we tried to prepare for that, but it is hard to simulate that in practice because we aren’t a very physical team,” Moore said. “It was a very rough game the first time around.
“Hopefully it is called closer this time and if not, we will have to play more physical.”
Moore will not only lean on his guard play to step up tonight but also the inside presence of senior Marquietta Sergeant and sophomore Johniece Tate.
“The last couple of games, they have stepped up and gave us some really big points,” Moore said. “In Friday’s game against Sheridan, they were a combined seven of nine from the field and made four free throws.”
Together, the two combined for 18 points in the low post.
“If Benton keys in on our guards, we can go inside and score,” Moore said.
Chumley said Benton didn’t shoot the ball well and turned it over a lot against El Dorado.
“We took a shot at the end to tie, but just couldn’t knock it down.
“Fortunately, the way we played the rest of the year, we can have a loss and still play for the title.”