Special to the Daily
Woodland High School celebrated just its second senior night for basketball with a pair of wins over the Ola Mustangs.
In the girls game, Lindsey Reed scored 15 points to lead the Lady Wolfpack to a relatively easy 55-41 victory over the Lady Mustangs. Woodland's season record is now 17-5, with a 9-3 mark in 3A-AAAA. Ola drops to 8-14, 1-10. The Mustangs played the favored Wolfpack tough in the boys game, leading by five in the fourth quarter before Woodland spurted past Ola for a 55-48 victory. The Wolfpack is now 12-10, 7-5 to Ola's 9-14, 2-9.
Despite the 73-31 Woodland victory earlier in the season at Ola, the Mustangs gave Woodland all they could handle. An 11-0 run in the first gave Ola a 16-5 lead, and scoring the first five points of the fourth put the Mustangs ahead 40-35. The Mustangs' effort resonated with what head coach Curt Miller had to say before the game.
"We are playing as a team now," observed Mustang head coach Curt Miller. "We are also playing with a lot of passion and desire. It is always our goal to be playing at full potential at this time of the year. The real season starts February 12 in the region tournament, and that is what what we are looking toward. Nobody gave us a chance at upsetting Jonesboro last year to make it to state, so we have the same mindset going into this year's tournament."
Ola kept Woodland off balance most of the evening, but the Wolfpack threw up a couple scoring spurts of their own. Trailing 16-5, Woodland came back to tie the game at 19 on a pair of Ahmad Chelsey free throws with 1.8 seconds left in the first. Then a sloppy second quarter featured seven turnovers by each team as the Pack edged ahead 29-23 at the half. "Woodland is a well-coached team, and it is their senior night so I expect them to play well, and I also expect our guys to come out and play well to try and avenge our earlier loss to them," concluded Miller.
After four failed tries at tying the game, the Mustangs finally tied the game at 35 at the end of the third. But Woodland came back from a 40-35 deficit on a 9-0 run and never again trailed despite Ola closing to 50-48 with less than a minute to go. A'Darius Porter celebrated Senior Night by sinking four clutch free throws and intercepting an Ola pass in the last minute for the win.
Ola was paced by Tre McBride's 13 points, with Brad Blount netting 12 (eight in the third), and Justin Gant adding 10. Woodland's scoring leader was Porter with 15. Porter also collected nine rebounds and two steals.
The Ola Lady Mustangs also were a bit stubborn despite their lowly region record. Ola led 8-2 early and 10-7 after one quarter, as Woodland committed six first-period turnovers. Morgan Jones' driving layup at 5:11 of the second put the Lady Wolfpack ahead 13-12, and Woodland never again trailed. A sloppy second quarter (nine Ola turnovers and seven by Woodland) ended on a Lady Wolfpack explosion. Woodland scored eight quick points in the last minute of the half to lead 27-15 at intermission. And just when Ola closed the gap to 34-28 in the third, Woodland went on an 11-0 run to all but seal the deal.
Reed's 15 points led Woodland, while Laura Carter scored 11 to lead Ola. Jasmine Strozier and Jones each had six rebounds for Woodland, and Ja'Tora Jenkins led all rebounders for Ola with eight. Taylor Anderson was a small but mighty force on defense for Ola with six steals.
"We have had to deal with injuries and illnesses over the course of the season that have prevented us from playing at full strength for most of the year," said Lady Mustang Coach Chris Gardner. "Last year's starting center Ja'Tora Jenkins has missed most of the season with a knee injury, and she has just come back from that. Our fourth leading scorer freshman Bradleigh Hooper suffered a broken wrist last week at Locust Grove, so our run of bad luck with injuries unfortunately has continued."
Gardner went on, "Over the course of the year we've seen improved play from many of our veterans, especially guards Taylor Anderson, Jordan Brown, Savannah Cook, and Laura Carter. They are all three or four year varsity kids who have improved greatly from a year ago. Competing in this region (Woodland, Alcovy, Dutchtown, Griffin) is a big challenge for us. We don't have a lot of post players with varsity experience. The bright spot for next season is that we have 10 of 12 varsity girls returning, and we will have a full senior class next year for the first time in school history. We have already won more games than any team in our short school history. With a good offseason the girls should enjoy more success in region play in 2011-2012."
Lady Wolfpack head coach Thomas McLaurin had this to say about his squad with just one week remaining in the regular season. "The last few games have seen us on an up and down roller coaster. We were very flat against Jones County and could not make key free throws against Alcovy."
"We have had great practices this week preparing for our game tonight against Ola," continued McLaurin. "I think our focus on our defensive pressure has been a key factor in our recent wins. We are approaching this game, as well as the next few with a playoff attitude. We know that tournament play means 'lose one and you're done.' Also, this is Senior Night. We want to make sure that our lone senior, Diamond Sneed, goes out a winner."