Cardrina Nolen grabbed 15 rebounds during Conway's 54-43 semifinal victory over Fort Smith Northside, including one that could be considered the turning point of the contest.
Northside had cut a nine-point deficit to one early in the fourth quarter, and the Lady Bears were still within 48-42 with 2:17 left when Nolen got into position for an offensive rebound on a missed free-throw attempt.
Nolen was not able to hit the ensuing shot, but she was fouled and made both free throws. Conway scored six of the game's final seven points.
"Cardrina is one of our two seniors, and she's been a JV player the last two years," Conway Coach Ashley Nance said. "She is the storybook JV girl who has worked her way into a starting role."
Conway plays North Little Rock in Thursday's Class 7A state championship game at the Bank of the Ozarks Arena in Hot Springs. It is the second time in three years the two teams have played for the state title.
Nolen scored all seven of her points in the semifinals from the free-throw line. Five of her 15 rebounds came on the offensive end, and she blocked three shots.
Conway managed to outrebound Northside 29-27.
"I was barking at our players in August that if we're going to be any good we've got to rebound and we've got to make shots," Nance said. "Cardrina has a big frame, but she's only about 5-10 on a good day. I was just so pleased. She played the whole game. She's got a great shot, and she's just a really good inside role player. She doesn't try to do too much offensively, but when she does get it, she knows what to do with it."
Jonesboro Westside may be in the Class 4A state championship game, but it had to overcome a hot Southside Batesville team in the first quarter of Saturday's Class 4A semifinal in Brookland.
The Southerners were 9-of-13 shooting from the floor in the first eight minutes, jumping out to an 18-8 lead with 3:40 left in the quarter. Then, junior forward Alex Brogdon hit a half-court shot at the buzzer to give the Southerners a 24-14 lead entering the second quarter.
Despite the Warriors' slow start, Coach Mark Whitmire was confident in his team.
"I said, 'We're OK. Keep playing. You're a great team. You're going to make your runs, too,' " Whitmire said. "They kept believing in each other and finished up on top."
Junior guard Avery Felts hit a three-pointer late in the second quarter to give his team a 34-31 lead, and the Warriors led 35-33 at halftime. Felts finished with 36 points, and his finger-roll layup with no time remaining gave Jonesboro Westside a 59-57 victory over Southside Batesville.
A standing-room capacity crowd of more than 2,500 witnessed the Warriors-Southerners semifinal at Bearcat Arena. When asked whether he thinks there could be a similar atmosphere at Saturday's Class 4A title game, Whitmire smiled.
"You would hope so," he said.
This is Jonesboro Westside's first state championship appearance since 2011, when it lost to Clarksville. The Warriors won the Class 4A title in 2010, defeating Huntsville.
When 7-2 center Connor Vanover transferred during the offseason from Baptist Prep to Findlay Prep in Nevada, the Eagles' chances of winning a third consecutive Class 4A state championship did not seem great.
However, with junior guard Issac McBride taking over as the leader, Baptist Prep is back in the Class 4A state title game.
It was McBride's buzzer-beating three-pointer against Riverview in the Class 4A semifinals in Brookland that got the Eagles into Saturday's championship game against Jonesboro Westside in Hot Springs.
"Our team is a bunch of dogs. Not d-o-g-s, but d-a-w-g-s," McBride said.
Baptist Prep Coach Brian Ross was proud of his team for returning to Hot Springs and its 29-victory season.
"It's very rewarding," Ross said. "We've taken on an underdog role all year. We knew that a lot of people thought we might not get back there. These guys did what it took. I'm just blessed to be there for a third year in a row. I hope we have the same result."
The Eagles won the last two Class 4A state titles, winning in 2016 against Malvern and last season against Pea Ridge.
"You can't count us out," McBride said. "We're ready for anything."
Sports on 03/06/2018
Print Headline: Conway's Nolen rises to key role