And the number is reduced to one.
Star City survived another late-game scare as the Lady Dogs advanced to the Class 4A championship basketball game with a 45-37 over Malvern in Saturday’s semifinals at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
As Star City attempts to obtain the first state championship in school history, the Lady Dogs will gear up for Farmington or Pulaski Academy in this week’s 4A finale at Summit Arena in Hot Springs. The date and time for the final will be announced today.
The Lady Dogs will be looking to atone for last year’s loss to Prairie Grove in the semifinals and a three-point loss to the same Prairie Grove team in the 2010 final.
“This year we are planning on taking it all,” Star City senior point guard Juquecia Chaney said, mentally recalling the loss to Prairie Grove. “That was a heartbreaker. We know what to do now … defense … defense.”
And defense has been the heat that has created a pressure-cooker situation for the opposition this year as the Lady Dogs improved to 30-1 with Saturday’s win, their second win over the Lady Leopards in a week. Star City beat Malvern 52-34 last Saturday in the semifinals of the South Regional tournament.
“The crock pot is boiling,” Star City coach Becky Brown said. “Let me tell you. It’s ready to overflow.”
The Lady Dogs had a harder time this time around as Malvern pushed Star City well into the third period before the Lady Dogs could pull away.
“At the beginning we were hustling on defense to get us going,” senior point guard Chaney said. “The key was to block out and rebound, get the ball, set up and run our plays.”
The Lady Dogs accomplished their goal offensively but couldn’t find a way to slow down Malvern’s shooting as the Lady Leopards rallied from an early eight-point deficit in the second period to claim a 28-27 lead at the 4:35 mark in the third.
“When they got the lead it didn’t bother us,” Chaney said. “We were confident that all we had to do was play defense, get a stop and score. Then we would hold the ball so they couldn’t score.”
Star City’s pressure created three turnovers on the next four possessions and turned them into points to wage a 34-30 advantage entering the final stanza.
Malvern’s Raven Baker opened the fourth with a steal and layup to close the scoring gap to two points, 34-32. But Star City’s Tyeshia Harris, who led the Lady Dogs with 11 points, extended the lead back to four with a layup on the other end and Kindra Redix pushed it to six, 38-32, with a pair of free throws at the 3:18 mark.
Harris’ layup was the last points Star City would score from the floor as the Lady Dogs took care of business from the free throw line, connecting on 9 of 13 attempts down the stretch as a fatigued Malvern team battled turnovers and fouls.
“We expended a lot of energy with defensive pressure to get back into the game,” Malvern coach Jess Martin said. “I thought we did everything we could to give ourselves a chance to win.”
Free throws by Octavian Reedy, Laurin Pooree and Chaney extended the lead to eight points, 42-34, with just over a minute left and the Lady Leopards managed just one field goal the rest of the way.
Brown said the memory of the past two years is still fresh in her mind as she chases her first state title as a head coach.
“It was just devastating to work all year to get there and it was so close,” Brown said. “We have to stick with what got us here. We have to stay focused. We have to play our roles. And we have to continue to work hard and not let anything get into our heads. With all the outside factors we have to keep our minds on what goes on between the lines on that court.”
Malvern’s hopes at a title-game appearance ended in Pine Bluff with a 27-8 record.
“In the grand scheme of things there’s only one team that’s going to be happy at the end of the year,” Martin said. “I’m not going to take anything away from our kids. They fought back. We have been a second-half team all year.”
Alivia Huell led Malvern with 11 points. Baker followed with 10.
Redix added 10 for Star City while Pooree chipped in nine and Reedy finished with eight.