Lady Cardinals fall in thriller

LITTLE ROCK - With every beginning, there is an end. Just like the best or worst book in the world, it always ends in one way or another. There is no difference in this year’s Harmony Grove Lady Cardinals and most of all, this year’s seniors. After beating the Cutter Morning Star Lady Eagles on Tuesday night in the opening round of the 5-3A South district tournament at Episcopal, the Lady Cardinals found themselves fighting for a bid to the 3A regional tournament.

But, there was just one problem with that scenario. Not only would the Lady Cardinals have to win in order to move on. They would have to beat and Arkansas Baptist team that they have already fallen two twice this season.

But Wednesday night was different. This wasn’t just a game. This was a chance to make believers out of the non-believers. It was a chance to keep a season alive that seniors Morgan Ramsey, Macy Coffee, Torie Simmons and Haley Barnett never wanted to see come to an end. But it was difficult for the ladies and the rest of the team as they watched their season come to an end to the hands of Arkansas Baptist, 53-48.

The Lady Cardinals jumped out to a 2-0 lead to start the first quarter on a jumper from Simmons. The slim lead didn’t last long as Lady Eagle guard Apple Fillat drove the floor before pulling up for her first 3-pointer of the game to put her team up by one at 3-2. After a layup from Caroline Hogue, Baptist was up 5-2 and seemed to be cruising early.

That was not the case as Ramsey showed off her best impression of how to shoot a 3-pointer, knocking it down to tie the game at 5-5 in the first. But, once again, Baptist took the slim lead on another layup by Hogue, 7-5.

Then the cold streak struck for Harmony Grove, as they missed 10 straight shots despite grabbing seven offensive boards. Luckily for the Lady Cardinals, their defense didn’t let up as they kept Baptist from scoring. Simmons broke the streak with a made free throw to cut the deficit to 7-6 still in the first.

Moments later, Coffee hit a jumper to put Harmony Grove up 8-7 late in the first quarter. But again, Baptist was able to battle back to take the lead following back-to-back buckets to go up 11-8 at the end of the first.

Baptist opened the second quarter with a made free throw to go up 12-8. Ramsey continued her precision shooting as she knocked down another jumper to cut the deficit to two at 12-10. Both teams continued to trade buckets as they battled through the second quarter with a very loud crowd on both sides of the court. Baptist pulled out to a 23-16 lead midway through the second, but the Lady Cardinals did not falter as they cut the deficit to three at 23-20 moments later thanks to a bucket from Lexa Carpenter and another bucket from Coffee. But the half did not end the way Harmony Grove was hoping as they found themselves with no momentum and staring at a 26-22 deficit.

The hot shooting continued for Baptist to start the second half as Hogue knocked down another jumper to put her team up 28-22. Coffee added a foul shot for the Lady Cardinals to stall the scoring of Baptist for the moment. That was until Hogue used a good inside move to draw a foul and get to the line for two foul shots where she knocked down the front end, missing the back. Baptist took one of their biggest leads of the game moments later after Katelyn Caldwell hit a huge 3-pointer to put Baptist up nine at 32-23. Coffee added another free throw to stall the scoring from Baptist. But that was nothing compared to the 3-pointer hit by Kayla Byrd to give Baptist an 11-point advantage at 35-24 in the third quarter.

Still trying to battle back and make the contest a thriller, Harmony Grove held on to trail only by 10 heading into the final quarter of play. Harmony Grove wasted no time cutting into the deficit as Ramsey hit yet another jumper to cut the Baptist lead to eight. With the momentum swinging, the Lady Cardinals added four more points, again, all from Ramsey with a jumper and two foul shots to cut the deficit to four at 39-35. Moments later, Ramsey continued to dominate on the offensive end to cut the Baptist lead to two with another jumper. But a foul by Molly White would send Byrd to the foul line to shoot two, where she made both and shifted the momentum Baptist’s way.

Fillat hit another jumper to padding her teams’ lead at 43-37 in a very face-paced game. But, yet again, Ramsey came to the Lady Cardinals’ rescue with another jumper to cut the score to 43-39 with only minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Having to foul to stop the clock forced the Lady Cardinals into more pressure than ever. The unlucky side of things was that Baptist was not missing anything from the foul line as Fillat added two more free throws to her stat sheet to put Baptist up 45-39. Ramsey cut the lead to four once again with back-to-back free throws moments later.

But Baptist was too much for the Lady Cardinals as Harmony Grove watched their season come to an end and their senior’s careers over forever after falling 53-48.

“I felt like we executed the game plan and forced them out of their comfort zone early,” Head Coach John White said.

But if one was to look at the game’s stats, one might think that there was no way that the Lady Cardinals lost. The Lady Cardinals outrebounded Baptist 36 to 28, allowing the Lady Eagles to grab only five offensive boards. Harmony Grove snatched 19 offensive boards in the game with Ramsey pulling down 10 of the 36 total boards.

“We could not ask any more from our girls,” White said. “Every one that stepped out there did a great job. We did everything we could, except score more points.”

Turnovers were huge for the Lady Cardinals as they committed a season low 11, forcing Baptist to cough up the ball 18 times. But for a senior playing her last game, Ramsey put together a career game with a huge double-double, scoring 26 points and grabbing 10 boards. She also had a block in the contest.

“Morgan really had a nice stretch for us and led us offensively,” White said. “She was a spark for us as we played our best basketball the last six or seven games of the year.”

Laura Britt and Coffee added six points apiece in the Lady Cardinals’ loss. The Lady Cardinals shot 26 percent from the field, making 19 of 73 in the game. Baptist shot the ball much less, but made more baskets, hitting 17 of 43 for 39 percent.

But even though the season is over, White could not talk any better about his group of girls that just a few months ago he didn’t even know.
“Our four seniors did a great job for us all season long,” White said. “They are great kids and they did a really good job leading us. We are really going to miss them.”

As for next year, White is excited about the girls that will be taking over the roles of starters.

“We have a great group of juniors that will be seniors next year,” White said. “We ought to have a pretty good basketball team as long as we continue to get better.”

But for every coach that loses a group of seniors as special as this one, it is hard to replace them.

“You don’t replace them,” White said. “You have a new group the next year that has their own personality and their own identity. And every group is always different.”

The Lady Cardinals will head into the offseason while Ramsey, Coffee and Simmons start the beginning to the end of their softball careers today. The Lady Cardinals finished the year with an 11-15 record.