Note to Readers: This story was contributed to Resident News Network Sports by Adam and Megan Hecox
When you’re hot, you’re hot. When you’re not, you’re not.
The Mansfield Lady Tigers were the hottest team in the 2A leading up to their State Tournament game against the England Lady Lions on Thursday, March 3rd. The Lady Tigers seemed to be unstoppable as they defeated all of the odds that were stacked against them by winning the Conference, District, and Regional Championships in a rough and tumble skid row of games. But even the best needs a rest and due to a late Regional Tournament, rest wasn’t in the cards for Mansfield as they headed to the State Tournament in Junction City merely 48 hours from winning their Regional Championship game in Eureka Springs.
Mansfield was evenly matched with England in every way. While the Lady Tigers had a speed and height advantage in most of their games this season, the Lady Lions from England was just as fast and big. England won the opening tip-off and the battle for Queen of the jungle was on. The Lady Lions jumped to an early lead with a long-range three-point shot and followed it up with a steal for a layup. England made a mistake though as they left Kynslee Ward wide open on the outside perimeter and Ward sank a three-pointer for Mansfield’s first points of the game. The Lady Lions were aggressive though and shockingly out-battled Mansfield for crucial rebounds which led to more England points. Mansfield’s Alyson Edwards, known for her aggression on the court, stood tall and took a charge call to simmer down England’s momentum giving the Lady Tigers the ball back. With Mansfield getting their feet back under them, the Lady Tigers went on a 6-0 run with Skylynn Harris putting up a layup, Natalie Allison draining two free throws, and Kynslee Ward getting a steal and score. The run was shut down though as England applied full-court pressure on Mansfield which frustrated the Lady Tigers offense. England on the other hand kept rolling on offense hitting back-to-back three-point shots as they put the Lady Tigers down 14-9 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter proved to be just as tough as the first for the Lady Tigers with England keeping their full-court defense in play. Even when the Lady Tigers got some space, their shots were uncharacteristically off target. Even free throws didn’t seem free for Mansfield as the Lady Tigers missed shots that are normally automatic. Not being able to capitalize on England’s mistakes began to cost Mansfield as the quarter went on. England on the other hand continued to have lady luck on their side. The Lady Lions were able to obtain offensive rebounds and put the ball back through the net on multiple occasions to extend their lead. The Lady Tigers didn’t give up though. Natalie Allison made a slick steal against England which gave Mansfield some life on the court. The Lady Lions defense must’ve forgotten their lesson from the first quarter as they left Kynslee Ward open again and again, Ward sank a three-point shot closing the game to a 17-14 lead by England. With Mansfield closing in, England began to substitute players religiously to give their key players a rest. The Lady Lions fresh bodies on the defensive side put Mansfield in an offensive pickle. Already having a hard time scoring, the Lady Tigers couldn’t buy points with the fresh heavy pressure put on by England. England used their player rotations for the rest of the half, wearing down the Lady Tigers to close out the half ahead of Mansfield 26-16.
This was unfamiliar territory for the Lady Tigers. They were down on the scoreboard, down on energy, and down in the stat books. What they weren’t down on though was heart. Mansfield came out of the half with their chins up and chests out as they went back to work. England started off with their wall of pressure on defense, but Kynslee Ward was the hammer used to tear that wall down. Ward drove the ball right up the gut of the Lady Lions defense in an attempt for a layup but missed. Undeterred, Ward got her own rebound and battled back against Engalnd’s monstrous posts to put the ball back up for two. Ward pressed rewind and went for the same drive again, missed the layup again, but it was Alyson Edwards who was there this time for the hard-fought put-back. England’s offense began to sputter as Mansfield bowed up to the Lady Lions forcing England to make wild shots. Mansfield continued to force the ball down England’s defensive throat with Kynslee Ward leading the way for an assist to Alyson Edwards for another board bucket. Mansfield may have been on a roll, but England kept their player rotations going to continue their game plan of wearing down the Lady Tigers. That’s when Natalie Allison stepped up, stepped down, and stepped all around the England defense. Allison powered in for a jumping layup and was fouled giving Mansfield a plus one which she sank. Shortly after, Allison was fouled again and again drilled her free throws. Still not done, Allison got a put-back board bucket to drive home the fact that the Lady Tigers weren’t going to lay down in the game. Even though the third quarter ended 39-31 in England’s favor, England knew they had a fight on their hands now.
Natalie Allison started the fourth quarter the way she ended the third…..on fire. Allison was left unattended and hit a long-range two-point shot which got the Tiger faithful on their feet. Almost a full two minutes passed where defense was the name of the game as both teams only scored two points apiece leaving the score at 41-33 England with 6:31 left in the game. The Lady Lions fouled Natalie Allison on her way up to a layup and she again hit the bonus free throw. Almost immediately after that, she sank a big three-pointer closing the score to a five-pint game and forcing England to call a time out. Even though the Lady Tigers were running on fumes, they refused to coast downhill and kept the Mansfield machine driving hard. Sadie Roberts was fouled on her way to a basket, but it was a floor foul instead of a shot foul. Roberts hit one of two shots then was backed up with an Alyson Edwards put-back for the score. The score closed the games gap to 46-42 and forced another time out by England. England would score right out of the gate after the time out, but with 17.7 seconds left, Sadie Roberts emerged out of the chaos to put up two points for Mansfield to make it 48-44. Kynslee Ward was quick to get a steal from the Lady Lions with 12.9 seconds left in the game and smartly called a timeout giving Mansfield a shot for the comeback. The inbound was passed in and the ball made its way to Alyson Edwards for a score at the 7.4-second mark setting up a two-point game. Unfortunately, the points gave England the ball back and with time running out, Mansfield was forced to foul to stop the clock leading to England closing out the game on free throws and a 49-46 loss for Mansfield.
Coach Ethan Bowman put the game into a coach’s perspective with a spot-on review. “Anytime you earn a state tournament appearance and get to play in March it is a special opportunity. Rather you’re a top or bottom seed you are getting to play the best the state has to offer. Our girls traveled to Junction City to play England and played really hard but came up short. We failed to do some of the little things that are required to win like knocking down free throws and giving up offensive rebounds. Regardless, this team ended their season fighting and I’m really proud of them”.
Although the game did not end as the Lady Tigers had planned, they had a season that they can be proud of. Mansfield came from the bottom of the pack in the 2A-4 conference the first half of the season tall the way to winning three titles in a month’s period. While most opponents chalked up senior-heavy rosters, the Lady Tigers had two. Sadie Roberts and Sarah Fisher may have been the only two seniors, but they were vital to the team. Roberts blazing offensive speed and Fisher’s smash-mouth defense proved to be game changes when they were on the court. The loss of Roberts and Fisher will hurt next season, but Mansfield will still have a plethora of talent for next season. Juniors Skylynn Harris, Seven Sanderson, Natalie Allison, and Brooklyn Adams will return next season to give Mansfield a heavy senior class that is full of talent and experience. The Lady Tigers sophomore class this season will also bring some heavy firepower to the program with Alyson Edwards, Kynslee Ward, Raine Hecox, and Harlie Fuller who can all blow up the scoreboards and play shut down defense. Then there’s the freshman class moving up who has the capability to contribute immediately. They proved that by winning the JR High Conference and District Championships this season.
“As for this season as a whole, it was one to remember. For a group that was primarily young and had little experience, winning conference, district, and regional titles is a testament to their hard work and dedication. This year is over, but we have definitely laid the groundwork to continue to build into next year. The girls and the coaching staff are going to continue to work to improve and prepare for next season that will have high expectations. We’ll be back”. Coach Bowman and his staff can see what he has in his team. The Lady Tigers can see what they have in each other. The Mansfield fan base can see a bright future in Lady Tigers basketball. To put it simply, the Mansfield Lady Tigers program will be loaded next year and for many years to come.