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Inside job: Lady Patriots win first title

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Photographs by Mitchell PE Masilun

Marion players, students and the school mascot celebrate Friday after the Lady Patriots defeated the Sheridan Lady Yellowjackets 50-40 for the Class 6A girls state championship in Hot Springs. For more photos, visit arkansasonline.com/galleries.

HOT SPRINGS — Marion had too much of an inside game for Sheridan to handle Friday night.

Senior guard Marie Hunter scored 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the floor and grabbed 4 rebounds to lead Marion to its first girls state basketbal...

Jakyya Clay and Marie Hunter combined for 25 points as the Lady Patriots earned their first girls state title with a 50-40 victory over the Sheridan Lady Yellowjackets in the Class 6A championship game in front of 2,489 fans at Bank of the Ozarks Arena.

Marion (25-8) scored 38 points from inside the lane, held a 29-19 rebounding advantage and outscored the Lady Yellowjackets 14-2 on second-chance points. The Lady Patriots scored 12 of the game’s first 14 points and never trailed.

“We got off to a good run and then executed down the stretch,” Marion Coach Shunda Johnson said. “I think our rebounding, especially on the defensive end, showed that that can win championships.”

Marion finished the season by winning 16 of its final 17 games. Sheridan (23-7) saw a seven-game winning streak snapped.

Hunter, the tournament’s MVP, scored 13 points, grabbed 4 rebounds and made 4 steals. Clay scored six points in Marion’s opening 12-2 start and finished with 12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 assists.

“They just gave me the ball at the right time,” Clay said. “I was able to finish the basket. I made it happen.”

Marion held a 12-4 offensive rebounding advantage.

“We struggled mostly trying to block out,” Sheridan Coach Jamison Ingram said. “It’s kind of a blur right now. We allowed them to get in the lane way more than what we wanted them to, and we knew that was something we had to do to have success against them. Right now, what sticks out is the second chances we gave them.”

Sheridan 6-1 senior Madison Raney scored 10 points and led all rebounders with eight, but Marion kept the Lady Yellowjackets post player from scoring around the basket.

“We knew she was tough and that we had to contain her,” Johnson said. “I thought we did a good job from keeping her from making an impact.”

Despite Marion’s inside dominance, Sheridan managed to claw back to within 18-17 with 2:13 to play in the second quarter. Sophomore reserve Diamond Morris, who led the Lady Yellowjackets with 14 points, scored six consecutive points as Sheridan attempted to recover from a 14-5 deficit.

Hunter, however, hit backto-back shots to push Marion’s lead to 22-17. The Lady Patriots led 23-19 at the half.

Sheridan junior guard Sarah Moore, who hit a running 27-footer at the end of the first quarter, connected on her second three-pointer with 2:25 left in the third quarter to pull the Lady Yellowjackets to within 27-26. Marion, however, increased its lead to 34-30 by the end of the quarter.

Trailing 36-34 after Morris made a layup with 5:53 to play, Sheridan had possession to tie or take the lead. Instead, a steal by Marion’s Morgan Christian led to a layup by guard Ty Selvy, and the Lady Yellowjackets never got another chance at an equalizer.

“We tried to go inside and they got the steal,” Ingram said.

Ten of Marion’s 16 fourth-quarter points came on point-blank shots. The other six came from the freethrow line.

Marion scored 12 of the game’s final 18 points.

“Tonight, we asked our players to give us their best basketball and they did that,” Johnson said.

MVP

MARIE HUNTER

MARION

The senior guard scored 13 points in Marion’s victory over Sheridan. She made 5 of 11 shots from the floor and went 3 of 4 from the free-throw line. Hunter also had 4 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 assists. Her layup with 2:33 to play extended Marion’s lead to 41-35.

And ones

Both Marion and Sheridan were making their first state championship game appearances. … It was the Lady Patriots’ first state title. … Marion was the No. 1 seed from the 6A-East and defeated Russellville and Lake Hamilton to reach Friday’s championship game. … The Lady Patriots never trailed. … Marion won its final 12 games this season. … Sheridan’s seven-game winning streak was snapped Friday.

— Jeremy Muck

Quotable

“We call it the kill zone and I don’t like to use that term, but the kill zone or the sweet spot is when our guards get it to our post players. When they get it to the post players, it’s a higher shooting percentage for us. We’ve been working on that a lot. We practice that every day.”

— Marion Coach Shunda Johnson

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