Watson Chapel girls clinch top-2 spot in conference with hoops win over Star City

Talisha Smith of Watson Chapel pushes the ball in transition in the fourth quarter at Watson Chapel's Leslie Henderson Gymnasium in Pine Bluff on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. Trailing the play are (from left) teammate Christian Lovett and Star City's Gracie Muckleroy and Shaniya Rochell. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)
Talisha Smith of Watson Chapel pushes the ball in transition in the fourth quarter at Watson Chapel's Leslie Henderson Gymnasium in Pine Bluff on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. Trailing the play are (from left) teammate Christian Lovett and Star City's Gracie Muckleroy and Shaniya Rochell. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)


Watson Chapel fended off a fourth-quarter rally Friday night to clinch a top-two spot in Conference 4A-8 girls basketball.

The Lady Wildcats defeated Star City 54-47 in Watson Chapel’s Leslie Henderson Gymnasium, finishing a season sweep of the Lady Dogs.

Watson Chapel (22-6, 11-1 in 4A-8) never trailed, but the visitors nearly erased a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter.

Star City (23-5, 9-3) got as close as 48-47 after back-to-back 3-pointers by senior Anslee Bellew but didn’t score again.

Watson Chapel junior Kha’leyce Cooper hit a shot shortly after Bellew’s 3-pointers, and Trinity Mitchner and Keyundra Sanders combined to go 4 of 6 from the free throw line in the final minute to hold on to the win.

Cooper said this win required good teamwork.

“I think all the hard work we’ve been putting in and getting to know each other better this year, it’s helped us a lot,” Cooper said.

Cooper scored a game-high 18 points for the Lady Wildcats, followed by Maranda Emerson with 11 and MaKyah Earl with 9.

Ballew led the Lady Dogs with 16 points, while sophomore Shaniya Rochell had 15.

Watson Chapel led 25-20 at halftime but extended its lead to a game-high 39-26 in the third quarter after a pair of 3-pointers from Earl. Star City did not score from the field in the third until the final minutes, but the Lady Dogs made two late shots to bring some momentum into the fourth despite trailing 39-30.

Watson Chapel Coach Leslie Henderson said better shooting helped the Lady Wildcats grow their lead.

“I thought that we hit a couple of 3s, and then was able to finish inside,” Henderson said. “We did miss several inside in the first half.”

Star City turned to a full-court press in the fourth quarter, looking for a way back into it. Although the Lady Dogs didn’t force turnovers in the backcourt with the press, they got steals in the front court which led to transition points.

The Lady Dogs scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough.

Watson Chapel will finish no worse than second place in 4A-8 with this win. The Lady Wildcats’ lone loss came at undefeated Hamburg, 50-49. Watson Chapel will conclude the regular season at home against the Lady Lions and is still alive in the conference title race.

Henderson said this was a big win, but the Lady Wildcats must remain focused next week, which includes a road trip to Warren before the home finale.

“We cannot go to Warren and think that we don’t have to play,” Henderson said. “We cannot do something like that, and then finish here. So, we have to stay on that path.”

  photo  Jabaree Smith of Watson Chapel passes out of a trap by Adreaun Johnson and Darius Redix of Star City in the first quarter at Watson Chapel's Leslie Henderson Gymnasium in Pine Bluff on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)
 
 

BOYS

Watson Chapel 58, Star City 49

After squandering an early lead, the Wildcats pulled away from Star City in the fourth quarter for a 58-49 home win.

Watson Chapel (14-11, 10-2 in 4A-8) started strong and led 20-9 after the first quarter, thanks in part to an 8-0 run.

Star City (7-18, 1-10) outscored the Wildcats 14-8 in the second to cut it to 28-23 at halftime. The Bulldogs went on to take the lead in the third quarter. The teams traded the lead for a few minutes, but Watson Chapel led 41-38 after the third.

The Bulldogs got as close as 44-42 in the fourth, but the Wildcats put them away with a 12-0 run.

Barnes said momentum swung several times during this game.

“They had it, so we stayed the course,” Watson Chapel Coach Jevon Barnes said. “Third quarter, they got it again. [Star City junior Kevin Johnson] made some big shots over there. Then, we kind of got back to ourselves and just settled down over there and ended up coming out with the win.”

Watson Chapel junior Joseph Dockett scored a game-high 16 points. Armon Leavy added 14, and Kaylon Cannon scored 12. Barnes said that trio did well at times, but the Wildcats need more consistency.

“If we start making these pushes and these runs early in the game, then you won’t find yourself in a close game,” Barnes said. “So, we gotta put this all together. We haven’t had a great game in a long time. So, hopefully, it starts now, because we’re fixing to get ready for tournament time.”

Junior Zairen Beene led the Bulldogs with 15 points. Caleb Williams scored 12, and Kevin Johnson added 10.

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