Hot Springs pair pave the way


Photographs by Mitchell PE Masilun

Hot Springs players celebrate after the Lady Trojans defeated Watson Chapel in the Class 5A girls championship game Saturday night at Bank of the Ozarks Arena in Hot Springs.

HOT SPRINGS -- Hot Springs' girls have ridden the coattails of senior guards Ariana Guinn and Imani Honey throughout the postseason, and the Lady Trojans weren't about to deviate from the strategy in their biggest game.

Guinn and Honey combined to score 34 points -- including 18 in the second half -- as Hot Springs shook off a cold-shooting night from the foul line and a big game from Watson Chapel senior guard Jakhiyah Boston to beat the two-time defending champions 50-47 in the Class 5A girls state championship Saturday night at Bank of the Ozarks Arena.

"Last week I was speechless, and I guess I'm definitely more speechless now than I was then," Hot Springs Coach Josh Smith said. "I can't say enough about the kids and the fight that they have. But those two [Honey and Guinn] make all the difference.

"When you've got two guards that can handle the pressure, handle the chaos that happens in games like this, then you've got a great chance to win."

Guinn had a game-high 22 points and 3 steals while Honey took home MVP honors after finishing with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists for Hot Springs (31-3), which won its final 23 games en route to winning its first state championship since 2015. Junior forward Nya Moody added 13 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks, but the Lady Trojans continuously left the door open for Watson Chapel to steal the victory.

Hot Springs hit 12 of its 25 free throws, including just 4 of 15 in the fourth quarter. The Lady Trojans also had a tough time corralling Boston, who made five three-pointers and ended with a team-high 20 points. Senior forward Jerica Bell chipped in with 14 points and 14 rebounds for the Lady Wildcats, who also played the last 3:48 without starting forward Taylor Whitted who fouled out. However, it was a pivotal call in the closing moments that ultimately shut the door on Watson Chapel's two-year title reign.

Guinn made the second of two free throws to give Hot Springs a 49-47 lead with 11 seconds left. After a timeout, Watson Chapel sophomore guard Wyvette Mayberry raced the ball up the floor and put up a 2-footer but was whistled for charging after colliding with a Hot Springs' defender with 3.8 seconds remaining. Junior forward Jaidan Thomas later made a free throw to push Hot Springs' lead to three, and the Lady Wildcats never got off a final shot.

"It was pitiful," Watson Chapel Coach Leslie Henderson said of the charging call. "I thought she should have been at the line with a chance to tie the game. I really did. But if you would have told me before the game that Jakhiyah Boston would come out and hit the shots that she did or that Hot Springs would miss the free throws that they did, I definitely would have thought we'd be the winner.

"But when you shoot six free throws in the game and they shoot 25, that's tough to overcome."

Watson Chapel (28-4) made 4 of its 6 attempts from the foul line but shot just two in the second half.

Aside from the free-throw differential, the game was fairly even. There were seven ties and 13 lead changes. Hot Springs never allowed the Lady Wildcats to establish any sustained momentum by attacking after every made field goal, and Watson Chapel was able to keep Hot Springs from making huge runs thanks to its play around the rim and work on the glass.

After Boston's third three-pointer of the first quarter gave Watson Chapel a 13-9 lead, Hot Springs scored five of the final seven points to trail by one going into the second quarter. The lead changed hands five times in the quarter, with the Lady Wildcats tying the game at 25-25 after a free throw from sophomore guard Kaelyn Irby just before halftime.

"[Boston] played amazing, especially in that first half," Smith said. "Coming out, the plan was to locate Jerica. We played more of a 3-2 [zone] to keep somebody in front of her and somebody behind her at all times.

"We just wanted to make it hard on her and make somebody else step up and beat you. Boston almost did."

Sports on 03/11/2018

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