Pictured is Danielle Lillie and Makayla Strutton
The Mansfield Lady Tigers were one of the bottom preseason picks in the 2A-4 for the 2020-21 season. Since then, the Lady Tigers had an 11 game winning streak, lost only two conference games, came in Runner-Up in their conference, finished Runner-Up in the District Tournament, placed 3rd in Regionals, and earned a spot in the State Tournament. On Wednesday, March 10th, the underdog Lady Tigers took it a step further by humbling the Horatio Lady Lions with a 51-33 lopsided win in Round 1 of the State Playoffs. Bottom line, Mansfield went from the prediction of being preseason losers to earning their way to be one of the Top 8 teams in 2A basketball in the entire state of Arkansas.
The Lady Tigers came out strong right out of the gate against Horatio. Mansfield dominated the rebound game and was able to out hustle the Lady Lions to an early lead. Although they had the lead, missed buckets and off-target passing kept Horatio with the belief they could overcome the deficit. That belief was quickly doused in the second quarter though as the Lady Tiger pulled together and allowed their teamwork to create some dreamwork.
With a suffocating defensive effort by Brooke Wright and Alyson Edwards on the boards, Horatio was forced to rely on outside shooting. That didn’t work so well either though due to some solid face-to-face pressure by Chloe Creekmore, Makayla Strutton, and Danielle Lillie. Horatio could score some in the second quarter, but Mansfield put on an offensive clinic as they went into the half with a 19 point 34-15 lead. The first half offensive and defensive game alone was a sight to behold, but the Lady Tigers were smooth off the scoreboard too. Mansfield only accounted for 5 total fouls in the entire first half having just 2 in the first quarter and 3 in the second quarter.
Mansfield came out of the half with momentum on their shoulders and their foot on the gas pedal. The Lady Tigers kept the baseline and backboards in their possession forcing any Lady Lion who dared to drive down to pay a hefty bill. They became even more efficient as Coach Joshua Bryan began rotating his post players to keep them rested and fresh. This meant that Horatio had to get past the wall smashing power of not only Wright, Creekmore, and Edwards, but also a fresh set of power towers in Seven Sanderson and Skylynn Harris. With Horatio frustrated by Mansfield’s defense, Strutton and Lillie reigned in offensive points. When the Lady Lions chose to double team Strutton or Lillie, they forgot about Mansfield 3 point specialist, Natalie Allison. With a quick dish to Allison, another 3 pointer bit the dust. When the 3rd quarter buzzer sounded, Mansfield stepped into the final 8 minutes of the game with a set 40-29 lead.
The 4th was all Mansfield. With both the offense and defense playing lights out, the Lady Tigers set cruise control on Horatio. Mansfield held the Lady Lions to merely 3 points in the 4th quarter and cheered their way on to a 51-33 Round 1 victory. “Every girl played their role well yesterday,” explained Coach Josh Bryan. “Guards got the ball up the floor against an aggressive press and our posts’ put us in a position to win with rebounds and second-chance points. I’m pleased with our output and look forward to our game Friday.”
Mansfield has made history on multiple occasions so far this season, but their goal is still to finish strong. Next up for the Lady Tigers is the Melbourne Lady Bearcats on Friday the 12th at 10 am. Melbourne is the team who sits at the top of the 2A state rankings and on top of that, the State Playoffs are being held in Melbourne which gives the Lady Bearcats home-court advantage. But Mansfield has thrived as the underdog all season when nobody gave them a chance. The Lady Tigers find this a fitting game for them under those circumstances and give the doubters only one phrase. Just Bring It.
Photos courtesy of Raine Hecox