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Hoxie closes out title in style

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Photographs by Mitchell PE Masilun

Hoxie’s Devyn Pollard (20) and Valley Springs’ Gabbi Shearer try to run down a loose ball Friday during the Lady Mustangs’ 51-40 victory over the Lady Tigers in the Class 3A girls state championship game in Hot Springs. For more photos, visit arkansasonline.com/galleries.

HOT SPRINGS — It took three quarters for Hoxie to find a level of comfort offensively in Friday’s Class 3A girls state championship game against Valley Springs, but the Lady Mustangs looked anything but uncomfortable in the fourth to pull off a comefrom-behind victory.

Hoxie rebounded from a third-quarter deficit by outscoring Valley Springs 24-9 over the final eight minutes to knock off the defending state champions 51-40 to capture its first state title in front of 3,251 at the Bank of the Ozarks Arena in Hot Springs.

Senior guard Devyn Pollard had 17 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals for the Lady Mustangs, who went 6 of 9 from the floor and had just 2 turnovers in the final quarter. Sophomore guard Kaitlin Henson added 12 points while sophomore center Sydney Gillham finished with 12 points and 17 rebounds to earn MVP honors.

“That fourth-quarter performance was one that these girls were used to,” said Hoxie Coach Mike Chipman, whose team trailed after the third quarter before turning things around. “I was never going to let the game get too far out of reach for us. I told them when the fourth quarter started that all we had to do was get a stop, score and then we’re right back in it.

“They never hung their heads, they never pouted. They just continued to battle, and the tide turned for us.”

Things didn’t go nearly as well for Valley Springs in the final quarter. The Lady Tigers connected on just 3 of 12 field goals in the quarter and turned the ball over 5 times. Valley Springs (35-7) didn’t get its first field goal in the quarter until Ashlynn Taylor hit a layup with 1:08 left.

“Hoxie made plays down the stretch, and we didn’t,” Valley Springs Coach Kimberly Jenkins said. “We’ve talked about it all year how this team has to do a lot of the little things right, and we didn’t down the stretch after we got a lead.

“We made some bad decisions, had some turnovers and missed some easy shots. We just didn’t finish, didn’t close it out like we wanted.”

Henson’s three-point play with 4:53 left in the game started a 15-2 run for Hoxie, which led by as many as 11 in the fourth after trailing 31-27 when the quarter began. The Lady Mustangs hit 7 of 8 free throws over the final 55 seconds to put the game away.

Taylor scored 14 of her game-high 18 points in the second half for the Lady Tigers, who’d lost to the Lady Mustangs 49-42 in the finals of their regional tournament Feb. 25. Sophomore center Ashley Henderson finished with 7 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocked shots but battled foul trouble for most of the game.

Hoxie (30-6) jumped to a 7-0 lead after Pollard’s basket with 5:46 left in the first quarter but found scoring hard to come by for the remainder of the half. The Lady Mustangs went nearly eight minutes before they made their next basket.

Valley Springs was unable to take advantage because of its own shooting woes but stayed close because of Henderson’s presence inside. But when the 6-2 post player picked up her third foul with 4:01 left in the second quarter, the Lady Tigers struggled on both ends of the floor.

“When she’s out there, she closes up space and gives us that length we need,” Jenkins said. “Our size has been a little bit of a problem for us all year, and when she’s out there, she changes the game for us. But when she’s not, we definitely feel it, and it hurt when she got in foul trouble.”

Chipman instructed his team to attack as soon as Henderson went to the bench.

“When Henderson’s not out there, we automatically have a size advantage,” Chipman said. “We knew if we could get her in foul trouble, they’re not as strong a team because they don’t have that big presence in there to affect shots and get rebounds.”

Valley Springs trailed 18-16 at halftime but used a 9-2 run midway through the third quarter to open up a lead. Henderson’s three-point play, which followed her blocked shot moments earlier, gave the Lady Tigers a 25-21 lead.

But Hoxie got into a groove in the fourth quarter.

“I can’t say enough about these girls,” Chipman said. “With a young team, one that had never been to the finals, you always worry about nerves, but we were locked in during team meetings, we were focused, and it paid off [Friday].”

Hoxie finished 17 of 35 (48 percent) from the floor and held a 28-25 advantage on the boards. Valley Springs was just 16 of 46 (34 percent) shooting.

Sports on 03/11/2017

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