HELENA-WEST HELENA-After trailing 18-8 at the end of the first quarter, Coach Willie Jackson benched his starters and got a spark from his underclassmen as sophomore Demond Franklin led the Helena-West Helena Central Cougars (17-1, 10-1) to a 70-42 win.
The Dragons came out inspired and smelled an upset in the CHS Gymnasium in the opening period. With 6:33 to go in the first quarter, Braylon Wright gave the Dragons their first lead at 4-2. After the teams tied at 6-6, DeWitt went on a 7-0 run with two baskets from Seth Courtney and a three from Braden Shandy to make it 13-6.
Shandy hit another three with 1:03 to go and Jay Davis scored just before the end of the period and the Helena-West Helena crowd was stunned and the DeWitt faithful who had made the trip from south Arkansas County were on their feet with the Dragons leading the Cougars, who are tied for the conference lead and ranked #4 in Class 4A by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, by a score of 18-8.
That was when the starters got benched and the game totally changed. Helena-West Helena’s second team was inspired and went on a 25-2 run. When Franklin scored with 5:16 remaining in the first half, the Cougars took the lead at 19-18 and never trailed again.
DeWitt did not hit a shot from the field the entire second quarter. All four of the Dragon points came from the free throw line as Helena-West Helena smothered the Cougars with full-court pressure and aggressive man-to-man defense. When CHS’s Brian Miller hit a shot at the buzzer at the end of the first half, the Cougars led 35-22.
The second half was more of the same. The Dragons didn’t hit a shot from the floor until Wright scored with 6:16 to go in the third, ending a 10:19 drought from the floor. By that time, Helena-West Helena led 40-24.
The lead grew to nineteen when Javontis Guy hit one from the charity stripe to make the score 43-24. After that free throw, Helena-West Helena’s starters entered the game for the first time since the end of the first quarter after CHS’s second team had outscored DeWitt 35-6 since the end of the first period.
The teams swapped baskets for much of the rest of the period. The closest the Dragons could get was fifteen when Xavier Cones scored with 0:31 to go in the third to make the score 49-34. Quanderius Sanders scored at the buzzer for the Cougars to make it 51-34 entering the final stanza.
Helena-West Helena dominated the final period. Justin Redmon scored on back-to-back possessions to start the fourth to make the scored 55-34. Then Swazell Famer hit a three for the Cougars to make the scores 58-36. The lead steadily grew until Franklin punctuated the victory with a slam dunk that brought the Cougar faithful to their feet with 1:35 remaining to make the score 68-40. Each team got one more basket prior to the final horn.
Franklin led the Cougars with 17 points. Seth Courtney led the Dragons with 13.
In the women’s game, the Lady Cougars (15-3, 9-2) outscored DeWitt 28-9 in the third quarter to pull away for a 72-50 victory.
After DeWitt took an early 3-0 lead on the games’ first possession, Helena-West Helena went on a 9-0 run capped off by a basket by Tara Green to make the score 9-3. DeWitt’s drought ended when Taylor Jo Mannis hit a long-range three with 3:24 to go in the opening quarter to cut the Lady Cougar lead to 9-6.
A couple of baskets from green and another by J’Tyia Thomas stretched the lead back to 15-9 for the Lady Cougars, but another three by Mannis with 1:32 to pulled DeWitt to within three at 15-12.
However, Helena-West Helena scored six of the final eight points of the quarter, including a basket as time expired by Thomas to make the score 21-14 after the first eight minutes of play. In the second, Helena-West Helena scored the first seven points and when Destanee Hardison laid it off the glass with 6:59 remaining in the first half, the Lady Cougars led 28-14.
Mannis kept the Dragons within striking distance and with 3:19 remaining scored to make it 30-20. The two teams traded baskets the rest of the half and Helena-West Helena led 36-26 at the intermission.
The third quarter belonged to the Lady Cougars. Kerra Trancy hit a three on the opening possession. Alexandra Sanders hit another three and the Lady Cougars got two baskets by Hardison and with 5:43 to go the Lady Cougars had gone on a 10-2 run to make the score 46—28. Ashlyn Beck hit a three for DeWitt to cut the lead back to 15, but that would be as close as they would get.
Helena-West Helena scored the next eleven points. Thomas capped off the run with a putback with 3:21 to go in the third to make it 57-31. By the end of the quarter, Trancy hit a three to make it 64-35.
The Lady Cougars coasted the rest of the way, playing everyone on the bench. Alexandria Sanders scored the last points for the Cougars to make the final 72-50.
Green led the Lady Cougars with 20 points. Thomas followed with 18. Hardison added 18 and Sanders rounded out those in double figures with 11 points.
DeWitt was led by Mannis with 16 points. Verli Rieves had 11. Beck followed with 10.
In junior high action, Helena-West Helena defeated DeWitt 38-31. Jermaine Williams led the Cats with 15 points. Austin Starks led DeWitt with 12.