MAUMELLE — The Nettleton Lady Raiders were stifling on defense in the first half and then had enough second-half firepower to get them past the round that got them last year.
After holding Vilonia to just 18 first-half points, the Lady Raiders got going for 48 second-half points, enough to hold off the Lady Eagles, equally hot in the final 16 minutes, for a 75-60 victory Friday in the Class 5A quarterfinals.
"We're a year older and a year wiser," said Nettleton coach Jason Smith, making his second semifinal appearance in three years. "We're improved. How many heroes were out there tonight? It's just different kids stepping up, boom, boom, boom. Even with foul trouble (two foul out), we just had the next kid up boxing out and doing a good job.
"We're pleased that we get to play on Saturday. That was the goal, but now we want to try and win the thing."
The first half started with a series of runs. Nettleton (29-2) started the game on a 7-0 run only to have the Lady Eagles (25-6) counter with an 11-0 rally.
Then Vilonia went scoreless the next 6 minutes, 3 seconds, allowing the Lady Raiders to pull within 11-10 by the end of the first quarter before bridging into the second with a 13-0 run for 20-11. They led 28-18 at halftime by holding Vilonia to just 5 of 24 shooting (20.8 percent) from the field.
Nettleton made Vilonia's woes seem worse by doubling up the rebounding battle 28-14 in the first half. Despite going up against a formidable post in sophomore Paige Kelley, the Lady Raiders dominated the boards all game, 45-24, 20-5 on the offensive glass, with nobody getting more than eight.
"(Kelley) is a great player," Smith said. "She's young, and a lot of their guards are young. But we felt like we could win the rebounding battle if we'd just go and compete. We just got stickback after stickback, and it got them into a little foul trouble when they had to go into offense-defense."
Nettleton wasn't much better from the first-half floor, 8 of 27 for 29.6 percent, but both teams warmed up significantly in the second, the Lady Eagles 12 of 19 (63.2 percent) with the Lady Raiders answering at 15 of 25 (60 percent). Nettleton made just a handful of stops in the third quarter but still led 47-35 by period's end because it hit 8 of 12 field goals. The Lady Raiders then stretched it to 18 three different times, the final at 67-49 with 2:45 left.
Vilonia stayed in it by hitting 14 of 19 free throws in the second half, but Nettleton enjoyed the advantage of being ahead by attempting 24 second-half free throws, making 15. The Lady Raiders were 26 of 43 from the free-throw line to 19 of 25 for the Lady Eagles.
Like the rebounding victory, the scoring triumph featured nine different Nettleton players, indicating a total-team effort. Mya Love, diving all over the floor for loose balls, finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
"She just shows how special of a player she is," Smith said. "It wasn't just Mya. It was Dasia (Young), Jordan (Elder), Bailey (Booker). Mya would deflect a whole bunch of that praise, but that's why we are who we are. Different kids stepping up in big spots when we get it to them."
Elder added 18 points, including three free throws on a pair of technical fouls. Young, hampered with foul trouble all night dealing with Kelley, fouled out with 11 points and eight boards.
Booker picked up the slack by scoring eight of her 10 points in the second half, including six in the final quarter. Kalveona Pepper, overcoming a serious knee injury last weekend, also fouled out but finished with nine points dealing with Kelley.
Kelley worked for her game-high 23 points and 11 boards. Lauren Patterson added 14 points for the Lady Eagles, Laney Mears chipping in with 11 mostly on three 3-pointers.
The Lady Raiders look to avenge their state-tournament loss from a year ago when they renew acquaintances with Watson Chapel, this time a round later in the semifinals, at 6 tonight.
5A East Jr. High Girls Basketball Tournament & Conference Champions
Champions of the Brookland Classic