Lady Blackhawks take first step in postseason

Mark Humphrey/Pea Ridge Times

Pea Ridge girls basketball coach Heath Neal looks on as sophomore point-guard Makenzie Stites directs traffic from the left corner during District 4A-1 action at Gravette's Lions Den Arena. Pea Ridge defeated Huntsville, 55-39, on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, in the tourney with Stites scoring 18 points.
Mark Humphrey/Pea Ridge Times Pea Ridge girls basketball coach Heath Neal looks on as sophomore point-guard Makenzie Stites directs traffic from the left corner during District 4A-1 action at Gravette's Lions Den Arena. Pea Ridge defeated Huntsville, 55-39, on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, in the tourney with Stites scoring 18 points.

GRAVETTE -- Pea Ridge built a 14-3 first quarter lead and never looked over its shoulder, blocking shots and clamping down on Huntsville to keep its postseason hopes alive.

Makenzie Stites scored 18 points to lead the No. 5 seed Lady Blackhawks (17-13, 7-7) as they eliminated the Lady Eagles, 55-39, in the first round of the district tournament on Tuesday, Feb. 13, and advanced to a Tuesday quarterfinal game against Prairie Grove on Wednesday, Feb. 14.

Pea Ridge coach Heath Neal touted his young team composed of five seniors and a balance of sophomores and freshmen with limited varsity experience for positioning themselves for a shot at regionals, which Pea Ridge hosts this week at Blackhawk Arena.

"The group of sophomores and freshmen, they've looked up to everything those seniors have done. They showed up to work every day and getting a win in the district tournament, being that fourth seed up until the last game in conference play, having a chance to punch our ticket to the next step, I think for sure it helps us down the road and it gives those kids confidence, knowing that we're right there," Neal said .

The Lady Blackhawks entrenched themselves defensively, holding the Lady Eagles to 3 points in the first quarter. Pea Ridge opened up a 14-3 lead on Gracie Davenport's jumper with 10 seconds remaining in the first quarter, her 8th point of the period.

Makenzie Stites exploited Huntsville's defense, finding open lanes and repeatedly driving to the basket. She had two quick drives, the second of which resulted in a foul and free throw putting the Lady Blackhawks up 17-3.

Huntsville began to wake up offensively, putting a dozen points on the scoreboard in the second quarter, but Pea Ridge never allowed them to make a dent in the lead. The Lady Blackhawks had an answer for each Huntsville bucket.

Maggie Foster banked in a 15-foot shot inside the jump circle for Huntsville only to have Leah Telgemeier score a layup and add the 'and one' for a 3-point play at the other end.

Miller slid down the baseline, caught a pass and scored inside for the Lady Eagles, but yet another Stites' drive wound up in a 3-point play and a 23-9 for Pea Ridge with 5:53 remaining in the second quarter.

Maggie Ritchie hit a 3-pointer for Huntsville, then Pea Ridge got the next 4 points. Julie Emitt finished a drive and added a free throw for the Lady Eagles to cut the lead to 29-15 with just under a minute-a-half to play in the first half. However, Stites came off a screen to bust a 3 at the top-of-the-key and Pea Ridge scored the last 5 points of the second to lead 34-15 at halftime.

Stites converted a 4-point play when she drilled a 3 on an inbounds play underneath the basket and sank the free throw giving Pea Ridge a 41-19 lead with 6:15 left in the third quarter. The teams traded baskets for the remainder of the period and the Lady Blackhawks led comfortably 46-27 at the end of the third.

At the 2:14 mark of the fourth, Pea Ridge sophomore Jazzy Dixon stole a rebound and made a spectacular reverse lay-in. Huntsville never threatened in the fourth and the Lady Blackhawks cruised to a 55-39 win.

"I'm thankful for our seniors and everything they've done for our program and leading those youngsters. It's hard when you've got four or five seniors and the rest of them in the locker room are sophomores and freshmen. A lot of maturity had to come from those older classmen and they did that all year long," Neal said.

Huntsville finished 6-25 overall with an 0-14 regular season record in the 4A-1, an uncharacteristic season for a school with a strong basketball tradition, not to win a single game against conference opponent. Maggie Ritchie led Huntsville with 14 points.

Pea Ridge 55, Huntsville 39

Pea Ridge^14^20^12^18^--^55

Huntsville^3^12^12^12^--^39

Pea Ridge (17-13, 7-7): Makenzie Stites 6 3-4 18, Gracie Davenport 4 1-1 9, Leah Telgemeier 4 1-1 9, Brooklyn Winn 2 1-2 6, Makena Ward 2 0-0 5, Bailey Taylor 2 0-0 4, Rebecca Konkler 0 2-4 2, Jazzy Dixon 1 0-0 2. Totals 21 8-12 55.

Huntsville (6-25, 0-14): Maggie Ritchie 5 1-2 14, Kristyn Miller 3 1-2 7, Morgan Limson 2 1-3 6, Julie Emitt 2 1-1 5, Thomas 1 0-0 3, Maggie Foster 1 0-0 2, Brooklinn McCartney 1 0-0 2. Totals 15 4-8 39.

3-Point Goals -- Pea Ridge 5 (Stites 3, Winn, Ward). Huntsville 5 (Ritchie 3, Thomas, Limson).