If someone were to ask you how a ten-player basketball team who had a first-year coach that went 5-6 in their first eleven games would finish their season, you’d probably say they would finish dead last. If it was added that that same team played multiple games with even less than ten players due to injuries and quarantines, you’d probably fly to Vegas to make a bet that they finished last. Heck, most people would agree with you and would place the same bet. The Lady Tigers faced all of those obstacles and then some yet through sheer effort and determination wound up running the table with a seven-game conference win steak to set up a game 25 years in the making.
Mansfield versus Mountainburg. The layout of the game was cut and dry. Whoever won the matchup would be crowned the 2A-4 Conference Champion. After shocking the Lady Dragons 63-58 at Mountainburg on January 27th, Mountainburg would have to win by 5 points to secure the Championship while Mansfield just had to eke out a win to be crowned. Although the Lady Tigers had the home-court advantage, they were short two key players as Harlie Fuller and Sadie Roberts were out for this rematch. This meant the Lady Tigers now faced a loaded Mountainburg team shorthanded. The Lady Tigers said a prayer for their missing teammates then took the court with the heart of David as they stepped up to their Goliath.
Mansfield fans were worried early in the game as the Lady Tigers seemed rather….well….off. Mountainburg painted the box Dragon blue keeping Mansfield away from the backboards. This forced the Lady Tigers to shoot from beyond three-point range and outside the box. Unfortunately for Mansfield, they couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn early on going 0-4 from three-point range and 0-4 on mid-range shots. Misses from long range and a lack of offensive rebounding hurt Mansfield, but defensive rebounds by Alyson Edwards, Natalie Allison, and Seven Sanderson kept the Dragons from catching fire. Come to find out, the missed shots were merely warm-up mulligans for the Lady Tigers as they finally began to drop bombs. Skylynn Harris kick-started Mansfield with a board bucket and followed it up with back-to-back three-pointers. Kynslee Ward then got into the shooting spirit and drained two threes of her own. Just like that Mansfield was up 16-5 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter began fast and hard. Really hard. Missed shots by both teams led to bodies on the floor fighting for the ball more than once. That just showed how much this game meant to both Mountainburg and Mansfield. All of that banging around would lead to fouls and Mountainburg fouled first sending Skylynn Harris to the line. Harris sank both shots with ease giving Mansfield a 13-point lead. Kynslee Ward kept her hand hot by sinking another three as the White Out crowd exploded. Mountainburg kept Alyson Edwards at bay for a quarter and a half, but that ended when they decided to get physical with the powerful Post/Guard. The Dragons fouled Edwards not once, not twice, but three times in a row allowing her to put 5 points on the scoreboard. Then they tried the same tactic on Seven Sanderson and got the same results as Sanderson downed both of her free throw shots too. Defensively, the Lady Tigers only lost three defensive rebounds in the first half which helped send them into halftime with a commanding 26-10 lead.
Mountainburg came out of halftime with a chip on their shoulder in the third quarter and jumped quickly on the Lady Tigers. The Dragons took a missed Mansfield shot and capitalized on a breakaway layup and then were able to draw a foul on Alyson Edwards giving her her fourth foul in the game. With Edwards out, Sarah Fisher stepped in. Fisher, normally known for her defensive tenacity, showed some offensive skill as she scaled past the Dragons to ring up four fast points. That is when a petition began going around in the stands to legally change the name of Kynslee Ward to “Kyns-three” as Ward’s hot hands got hotter than Dragon’s fire. Ward swished three straight three-point shots on Mountainburg with her smile getting bigger and bigger with each basket. None of the Lady Tigers had a serious face because they were downright having fun as they closed the third quarter ahead of Mountainburg 43-25.
Only eight minutes stood between the Lady Tigers and the end of a 25-year Conference Championship drought. Mountainburg locked on some full-court pressure as the clock began to run trying to shut down Mansfield’s momentum. The Dragons were able to draw a few fouls, get some turnovers, and score six unanswered points by applying pressure, but their fire soon became a candle in the wind. The aggression by the Dragons cost them two players fouling out. Mountainburg cut the Lady Tigers lead down to 14 at one point, but Alyson Edwards came back into the game to slay the Dragons once and for all. Still, with four fouls against her, Edwards was able to roll with 10 points in the fourth quarter without fouling out. Kynslee Ward and Natalie Allison joined Edwards in the scoring spree to stretch the lead to 19 points as time ran out in the fourth quarter. The Mansfield Lady Tigers looked up at the buzzer and saw a final score of 59-40 giving Mansfield their first outright Conference Championship since 1997.
The Mansfield Lady Tigers proved that no matter how bad it gets, you can never count them out. Alyson Edwards led the team with 18 points while Kynslee Ward 3’d her way to 17 points in the game. Skylynn Harris scored 11 points, Sarah Fisher had 6 points, Natalie Allison scored 5 points, and Seven Sanderson rolled up two points against the Dragons. The victory not only gives the Lady Tigers the 2A-4 Conference Championship, but it also gives them the number one seed in next week’s District Tournament and a first-round bye. They will play the winner of Lavaca vs Future School on Thursday, February 17th at 4:00pm in Mountainburg.