Megan and Adam Hecox contributed this story and photos special to the Resident Press. Thanks to you both for bringing Mansfield coverage to Resident Press and our readers!
The Mansfield Lady Tigers have spent their season proving everyone wrong. They went from a nobody team early in the season to the head of the 2A-4 table as Conference Champions and earned the number one seed in the District Tournament. Everyone loves an underdog story…unless you’re Mansfield at the District Tournament. The Lady Tigers walked into a hostile environment for the 2A-4 District Championship as they were facing not only a tough Mountainburg team for the third time this season, but with Mountainburg hosting the tournament, they would be playing on the Lady Dragons home court. There was also a home fan advantage as the boy’s teams from Acorn and Lavaca, who would play after the girl’s game, joined the Mountainburg student section to root against Mansfield. All of the negative scenarios didn’t change the fact that the Lady Tigers had a game to play and so the battle began.
Alyson Edwards won the tip-off giving the Lady Tigers the ball first and in the blink of an eye, Natalie Allison sank a three-point shot to put Mansfield on the board first. Mounatinburg showed the Lady Tigers that it would take more than a mere blink to win as they hit a three-pointer themselves to tie the game at 3-3. Mansfield responded with another Natalie Allison three-pointer followed by Kysnlee Ward hitting a three from downtown. The game started with the makings of a sniper show with both teams on target with three-point shots. Guess what happened next? A three-pointer from Mountainburg and another one from Mansfield’s Ward. Ward was on fire hitting three threes in the first quarter and showed how important this game was to Mansfield as she also dove into the stands attempting to save a loose ball at one point. All of the Lady Tigers first-quarter points came from Kynslee Ward and Natalie Allison’s as the pair combined for five three-pointers closing the quarter with a 15-8 lead over the Lady Dragons.
The second quarter set the tone for the game as things switched from a precision shooting game to an all-out brawl for all. Seven Sanderson was fouled quickly on a put-back then hit both of her free throws to extend the Mansfield lead to 17-8. Skylnn Harris then found a gap in the Lady Dragons defense for a smooth layup but Mountainburg found a way to resolve the Lady Tigers as they applied full-court pressure. The pressure put Mansfield in a pickle and the Lady Tigers turned the ball over leading to another Mountainburg three-point shot. There was a lot of bumping and banging going on on the court as the physicality of the game increased with every score by each team. That type of game is what Mansfield’s Alyson Edwards lives for and Edwards suited up for some board fights. Edwards fought her way to back-to-back scores, then was fouled going in for two more which led to a couple of free-throw shots. Aggressiveness often leads to mistakes and Mansfield’s Harlie Fuller exploited the Lady Dragons mistakes often late in the quarter. Fuller got a steal and made an assist to Natalie Allison for the score then got down and dirty in the paint battling with the big girls for a defensive rebound. As the clock went under ten seconds in the half, Skylnn Harris blocked a Mountainburg three-point shot to end the second quarter with Mansfield ahead 32-12.
Both teams got a break at halftime, but as the third quarter ensued it was evident that the games physicality level didn’t take the same beak. Mountainburg started the quarter with the ball, but Seven Sanderson was the mountain Mountainburg couldn’t move as she stuffed a Lady Dragons layup attempt. Mountainburg would continue going at Sanderson though forcing the Mansfield powerful post to get into foul trouble The fouls helped the Lady Dragons, just not on the scoreboard as they missed multiple free throws off of those fouls in the quarter. Momentum was anyone’s for the taking so Mansfield’s Kynslee Ward took charge…..literally. Ward stood tall as a Mountaiburg player ran over her going for a layup and giving the Lady Tigers a charge call along with the ball. As Mansfield went blow for blow with Mountainburg, the crowd and benches went wild. Unfortunately for Mountainburg, some of that wildness on their bench cost them a technical foul sending the Lady Tigers momentum tank all the way to full. Free throws became the name of the game as Mountainburg continued their aggressive defense sending Alyson Edwards and Seven Sandeson to the line after being fouled on offensive rebounds. The Lady Tigers had stretched the lead to 44-22 with 3:47 left in the quarter as all seemed to be going their way. Natalie Allison hit a long-range three-pointer but Mountainburg wasn’t going to quit on their game plan. The Lady Dragons sank back-to-back threes on Mansfield after some impressive defensive steals forcing Mansfield to take a time out. After the time out, the Lady Dragons drilled another three with 11.4 seconds left to cut the lead to ten points as the quarter closed 48-38.
Mansfield quickly stretched the score out again to start the fourth quarter with Skylunn Harris gaining a quick two-point bucket. If it looked like the Lady Tigers had it in the bag, but it wasn’t as it looked. Mountainburg seemed to have a master plan all along though and it was finally starting to materialize for them. The plan was apparently to use their aggression to get Mansfield into foul trouble. Seven Sanderson fouled out early in the fourth quarter which took a big weapon off the board for the Lady Tigers. Mountainburg began hitting more shots as Mansfield was still getting called for fouls. Kynslee Ward got caught with her fourth foul and Natalie Alison along with Skylnn Harris got called for fouls on shots they blocked. This made it possible for Mountainburg to get within 7 points of the Lady Tigers forcing Mansfield to call a time out with the score at 57-50 and three minutes left in the game. With foul trouble and a lead falling fast, Mansfields Alyson Edwards and Skylnn Harris stepped up. Edwards fought for offensive rebounds and got three straight scores and free throws tacked on from being fouled on her put-backs. Harris was able to block the Lady Dragons shots on multiple occasions and any shots that she didn’t block, she was sure to rebound for Mansfield. The wild play of both teams led to a crazy final minute of play as the score sat at 61-56 at the 1:03 mark. Only down by five points, Mounatinburg kept giving Mansfield all they had but Alyson Edwards extinguished the Lady Dragons firey comeback hopes with a final board bucket at the 12-second mark. At the final buzzer, the Mansfield Lady Tigers were crowned the 2A-4 District Champions with a final score of 63-56.
The Lady Tigers won the game with a team mentality. Not only did they have multiple players scoring points for them, but they also rolled up 43 total rebounds and 17 total assists. Mansfield and Mountainburg put on a classic game for the entire state to see. Was it wild and crazy at times? Absolutely. But they put out a notice to all other conferences that the 2A-4 isn’t going to be walked over by anyone going into the Regional Tournament. For Mansfield, it was the closing of another chapter in their 2022 Comeback Cats novel as they defeated Mountainburg for the third time, were crowned Conference Champions, and earned the District Championship with the deck stacked against them. The victory now opens yet another chapter as the Lady Tigers go into the Regional Tournament in Eureka Springs as a number one seed. Mansfield will start the Regional Tournament against Life Way Christian on Wednesday, February 23rd with a tip-off of 7:00pm. If the Lady Tigers win, they will automatically be State Tournament bound. That’s would be nice, but as Mansfield has shown this season, nice doesn’t win Championships and the Lady Tigers want to add Regional Champions to their 2022 book of records.