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By Steve Andrews I Photos by Karen Schwartz 

FARMINGTON – The hometown Lady Cardinals and their longtime nemeses Prairie Grove, will renew the Highway 62 rivalry one more time tonight, in the girls’ 4A North Regional championship game.

Top-seed and host Farmington (30-1) has beaten the Lady Tigers (19-13) three times this season, including last week’s 49-35 victory in the 4A-1 Conference tournament in Pea Ridge. But Lady Cardinals’ coach Brad Johnson knows that anything can happen when familiar foes meet.

“We’ve just got to go in focused, because it’s a rivalry game every time we play them,” he said. “They are very physical; they are very well-coached, and they are probably playing as good as anybody in the state of Arkansas right now. So, it’s going to be a tough one. We have to come out ready to play.”

Farmington reached the title game with a 67-45 semifinal victory over Gentry on Sunday, while fourth-seed Prairie Grove upset second-seeded Harrison 47-43 in the other semifinal.

Farmington 67, Gentry 45

Gentry did not go down easily, as the Lady Pioneers went nose-to-nose with the Lady Cardinals in the first quarter. Sophomore Shelby Still’s 3-pointer gave the Lady Pioneers a 7-6 lead with four minutes left in the quarter. A free throw by junior Alyssa McCarty extended the lead to two, before Farmington scored the final eight points in the period, including a pair of threes from seniors Carson Dillard and Megan Hernandez, to take 14-8 lead.

“When you are playing a quality team like Gentry, with kids that can shoot it and score in multiple spots, you have to be able to weather a storm and answer it,” Johnson said.

Dillard then stayed on a roll early in the second, scoring a couple of buckets and dishing to sophomore J’Myra London for another easy deuce, making it 20-8. Dillard and junior Jenna Lawrence shared team honors with 18 points each in the game.

“I thought we were able to respond, and the ball was getting to touch in the paint a little more,” Johnson added. “Then when the pace got sped up we got a few turnovers and converted those. Eventually we were able to play inside out and hit some threes and were able to get a little separation.”

Lawrence, a 6-foot-3 University of Arkansas commit, scored 14 of her points before the break as Farmington held a 38-19 lead at the intermission.

“Jenna played outstanding, and you know she’s going to give you everything’s she got every time out,” Johnson said. “We felt like she gave us a size advantage that we could exploit a little bit. They came out and were face-guarding Carson early. But she did a great job moving without the ball, setting some screens and set some things up for our other kids. Our basketball team is pretty versatile, and we showed that we can score in a lot of different ways tonight.”

Lawrence’s putback early in the second half pushed the lead to 20.

“I just came out feeling good,” she said. “I knew I had a big advantage over them with my size, so I was able to just get rebounds and score. And my teammates did a great job finding me and getting me the ball. I’m usually taller than most of the players I play against, so it’s always a nice advantage to have.”

McCarty led all scorers with 24 points and kept the Lady Pioneers within striking distance for a while, helping cut the lead back to 13 midway through the third quarter.

Sophomore point guard Reese Shirey was active in distributing the ball for Farmington, and scored 10 points in the game, with a pair of triples. She stole the ball midway through the final quarter and proceeded to take it the distance for a layup, before following that with a three from the top of the key to put the Lady Cardinals up 64-42.

Prairie Grove 47, Harrison 43

After losing to Harrison during the regular season, Prairie Grove got its revenge when it counted most.

The teams see-sawed through the first quarter, ending it tied 9-9. But sophomore Reese Ricketts went to work in the paint in the second quarter, as the Lady Goblins went on an 11-7 run and led by four at the half. Ricketts scored 11 of her 13 points in the first half.

Harrison then looked like they were taking control early in the second half, when junior Clare Barger’s shot off the glass put the Lady Goblins up 22-16. Barger led her team with 17 points in the game.

But the Lady Tigers quickly responded with a 6-0 run, as senior Trinity Dobbs drained a pair of free throws that knotted the score at 22-22.

“The shots just weren’t falling for us in the first half, but fortunately in the second half, we started getting some steals, making some threes and the shots just started falling,” Prairie Grove coach Kevin Froud said.

A driving layup by Rickets gave the Lady Goblins a 4-point lead in the fourth quarter, but a 3-pointer from sophomore Lexi Henry quickly sliced it back to one. There were then five lead changes, until a Henry free throw gave the Lady Tigers a 37-36 lead with two minutes left.

Henry led all scorers with 19 points, including 14 of those in the pivotal fourth quarter. She was 6 of 8 at the line in those final two minutes.

“Our goal was to make it to the state tournament, and we really wanted it, so we just went out and fought hard to get there,” Henry said. “I just kept taking some deep breaths and followed through on my shots. I knew I had to do whatever could to help my team win. I was confident and was able to make them.” 

Froud has his team spread the floor in a four-corners passing offense in the final minutes, which forced Harrison to eventually foul. But the consistency at the line was able to put Prairie Grove into tonight’s final.

“That was a big win,” Froud said. “That was kind of like our season on the line. When we can make shots, we’re a pretty good team, but sometimes it’s hit and miss. We were able to make some big shots down the stretch today. We were just able to play as a team and pull this game out. We were just trying to keep them from making it more than a one possession game. We spread it out and were able to make most of our free throws at the end. These girls did a real good job.

But he knows his team has its work cut out for them against the Lady Cardinals, especially on their home court.

“They are a really good team, with a 30-win record, but right now, our girls are really competing,” he said. “Just like last week, we had to win three straight games in the conference tournament to even make it to Regionals. Buy these girls have some determination and heart, and I know they will come out and compete.”