HOT SPRINGS -- The one thing that was missing from Chloe Clardy's sparkling resume during her record-setting, four-year career at Conway was a state title, but the future Stanford Cardinal checked that off her list Friday.
The senior guard delivered with a team-high 20 points as Lady Wampus Cats ran past defending champion North Little Rock 62-53 in the Class 6A girls state final at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs.
The victory sewed up the first championship for Conway (28-5) since 2014 and third in the past 15 seasons, but this one may have meant a little more to the state's top-ranked team because of who it came against.
The last two trips to the final for the Lady Wampus Cats resulted in losses to North Little Rock (26-6). The Lady Charging Wildcats beat Conway 75-65 in overtime in 2016 and pulled away to win 66-49 in 2018, but things were different in this title-game encounter.
The Lady Wampus Cats scored 34 of their 62 points inside, held a 41-35 edge on the glass and notched 15 second-chance points to beat North Little Rock for the third time this season and fifth consecutive time overall.
"Obviously it was a great game in a battle of two known opponents," Conway Coach Ashley Hutchcraft said. "North Little Rock is awesome, they've got an awesome coach. Any time you can beat any team three times in a year, I think it says a lot about your program.
"But if you can beat North Little Rock three times, I think that's a testament to our team as a whole, especially our seniors."
In their biggest game of the year, it was the Lady Wampus Cats' super senior that led the charge the way she usually has against her school's biggest rival.
Clardy, who's averaged 25.5 points in nine career games against the Lady Charging Wildcats, had 10 points in both the first and second halves. She also handed out four assists, including one to Alexis Cox with 1:21 left in the game, that gave Conway a 60-48 lead and started an early celebration along the Lady Wampus Cat sideline.
"Chloe Clardy was Chloe Clardy," North Little Rock Coach Daryl Fimple said. "I cannot wait until she graduates. I'll probably be there with a gift. ... but I'm really, really proud of our kids. They fought all year long, and a lot of them were back from last year so they were pretty mature about what they were doing.
"I thought we gave a great effort [Friday], but the 50-50 balls probably hurt us more than anything, that and offensive rebounds. We kind of got even on the offensive rebounds, but it seemed like they came up with some huge ones when they needed them, just to keep the distance."
The Lady Wampus Cats, who never trailed, ended the game with 15 offensive rebounds compared to 12 for North Little Rock, but Conway's offensive balance also paid dividends. Savannah Scott finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks while Alexis Cox added 14 points and eight rebounds.
April Edwards had 20 points, Ja'Miya Brown scored 13, and Jocelyn Tate added 10 for the Lady Charging Wildcats, who didn't get off to the best of starts either.
Cox scored in less than five seconds off the opening tip, which led to game-starting 8-0 run. North Little Rock missed its first seven shot attempts before Madison Hatley hit a lay-up with 4:10 to go in the first quarter. It was 15-6 after a putback from Scott before North Little Rock spurted back.
Brown drilled a three-pointer with eight seconds left in the quarter then hit another at the start of the second to get the Lady Charging Wildcats going.
North Little Rock shot 50% (7 of 14) in that second quarter, with Edwards heating up to account for its final 10 points of the half. But Conway never allowed the Lady Charging Wildcats to move ahead despite having its lead cut to one on separate occasions.
The majority of the second half wasn't kind to North Little Rock, namely the third quarter.
The Lady Charging Wildcats made 3 of 11 (27.3%) field goals in the period, and a huge chunk of that was because the adjustment Hutchcraft made at the break.
"We've been pretty successful in our 2-3 zone this year, but [North Little Rock] was making some big shots," she explained. "If we can stay in that zone, make it a game for a half, then in the second half we can do what we want to do. And when we got into halftime, we all looked at each other and said let's go.
"It was time to man up, and I thought we did a good job of that."
Behind its man-to-man defense and key baskets from several, Conway outscored North Little Rock 16-10 in the third quarter to turn its 30-27 halftime lead into a 46-37 advantage by the start of the fourth quarter. The Lady Charging Wildcats weren't able to get any closer than eight points over the final period.
"We worked all year for this," Clardy said. "Everyday on the court and outside of practice. We did this for each other."
6A girls scorebook
PCT. — 33.9, FT 64.3, 3-PT — 6-20 (Brown 4-9, Edwards 2-10, Fimple 0-1). BL — 4 (Tate 3). TO — 12 (Edwards 4). ST — 8 (Tate 2, Brown 2)
PCT. — 38.2, FT 76.2, 3-PT. — 4-13 (Clardy 3-5, Cox 1-2, Beckwith 0-1, Brown 0-2, Bohanon 0-3). BL — 3 (Scott 2). TO — 11 (Brown 3, Jordan 3). ST — 6 (Brown 2).
North Little Rock9181016—53
Officials — Bickham, Mitchell, House
Attendance — 3,546
Gallery: 2023 Class 6A Girls Basketball State Championship