When the Helena-West Helena Central Lady Cougars (16-3, 11-2) took the court for the home finale Tuesday night, the Star City Lady Bulldogs (18-6, 13-1) had not lost a conference game in almost two years. CHS came away with the upset win by a score of 40-37, holding the Lady Bulldogs scores for 5:25 in the third quarter.
The game lived up to its billing in the first half. The first quarter saw three ties and two lead changes. Tara Green got things going for the Cougars, hitting two free throws on Helena-West Helena’s opening possession. After the Lady Bulldogs tied the game at 2-2, Green scored again after grabbing an offensive rebound and laying the ball off the glass.
With 4:44 to go in the first quarter, Green broke another tie by going 1-2 from the charity stripe to put CHS back in front 5-4. Then, the Lady Bulldogs took their first lead of the game with a layup on the ensuing possession and were able to get in their full-court press. A steal and score followed by a long three-pointer put Star City in front 11-5 and capped off a 7-1 run for the Lady Bulldogs. That would be their biggest lead of the night.
The Lady Cougars rebounded with six consecutive points from J’tyia Thomas to end the period, leaving the two teams knotted up at 11-11 to start the second quarter. The Cougars continued the run over the next 3:06 as Green hit two free throws and Thomas hit a layup and a three to complete a 13-0 run and give Helena-West Helena 18-13 lead. But Star City marched right back with a 7-2 run of their own to end the half. Another three cut with 0:35 to go in the first half cut the Lady Cougar lead to 20-18.
Star City took the lead with another long three with 7:15 to go in the third quarter that made it 21-20 in favor of the Lady Bulldogs and had the Star City faithful who had made the trip from Lincoln County on their feet. But the Lady Cougars simply would not be denied. Thomas would put the Lady Cougars up 22-21 with 6:17 left in the third and the Lady Cougars would never trail again. Thomas rattled off eight points in the third quarter. Another basket from Destanee Hardison and smothering defense that held Star City scores until the 1:48 mark of the period helped Helena-West Helena to a 30-23 lead entering the final stanza.
Green scored the first four points of the fourth quarter and her putback with 5:44 remaining in the game gave Helena-West Helena its first double digit lead of the night at 34-23. When Alexandria Sanders went 1-2 from the charity stripe fourteen seconds, the Cougar faithful were on their feet as the lead had grown to 12.
But Star City wasn’t going to quietly take its first conference loss in almost two years. The Lady Bulldogs stole the ball and got a layup with 4:55 to go to cut the lead to 35-25 and immediately got in their full-court press. With the Lady Cougars trying to spread the floor and milk the clock, Star City slowly got the lead down to five at 39-34 with 0:58 seconds to go. After Helena-West Helena missed the front end of a one and one, Star City had a chance to make it a one possession game but the Lady Cougar defense came through with a turnover. Tara Green hit a free throw with four seconds to go. Star City hit a long three at the buzzer to make the final 40-37.
Thomas led the Lady Cougars with 21 points. Green followed with 14.
The Cougars (18-1, 11-1), who are ranked #4 in Class 4A by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, had no problem dispatching with the Bulldogs as they cruised to a 71-41 victory.
Helena-West Helena needed only eight seconds to get on the board when Michael Boone, hit the first of four first half three point shots, to put CHS up 3-0. The Cougars would never trail.
Sanders scored the next seven points for Helena-West Helena as the Cougars built a 10-2 lead with 4:06 to go in the opening quarter. The Bulldogs rallied and took advantage of a couple of defensive blunders to cut the lead to 10-9. That would be as close as they would get.
By the end of the first, the lead for Helena-West Helena was 16-11. Then the Cougars went to a full-court press that Star City for which the Bulldogs had few answers. The lead reached double digits with 4:16 to go in the first half when Boone hit his fourth three pointer. By halftime, it was 41-22.
The third quarter was more of the same as the Cougars held Star City to just eight points and led 61-30 at the end of the third, which mean the mercy rule was in effect for the final stanza. Coach Willie Jackson cleared the bench and Tyran Gray provided the fourth quarter highlight with 2:41 remaining in the game with a long three from the baseline.
Boone led the Cougars with 21 points. Sanders followed with 11.
Helena-West Helena Central hits the road tonight to take on the Stuttgart Ricebirds and are attempting to avenge earlier losses this season.