Kennett's Kenna Hounihan penetrates to the basket. [Order this photo]
The South Pemiscot Lady Bulldogs trailed the Kennett Lady Indians 58-55 after Lara Abmeyer bounced in back-to-back free throws with 10 seconds remaining to push the margin to three.
The Lady Bulldogs put the ball in the hands of standout junior point guard Carrie Shephard following the made free throws. Shephard pushed the ball to within a few feet of the 3-point line and released a trey just to the right of the top of the key a second or two before the final buzzer sounded. Shephard's shot made contact with the rim but did not fall, allowing Kennett to escape with a 58-55 regulation victory.
"We are excited to be regular-season champs," Kennett coach Rod Baxter said. "We are even more excited to be undefeated because that's a little extra star you get if you will. I've always had my teams set goals and the No. 2 goal this season was to win the conference. We've accomplished that and it will be exciting to play the conference tournament in front of our home crowd in a few days."
Kennett's chance of suffering its first loss to a Bootheel Conference team since Feb. 17, 2010, looked realistic after one quarter against South Pemiscot. The Lady Bulldogs led the Lady Indians 17-5 after the first period. Kennett's Kenna Hounihan was the only player who recorded a point against South Pemiscot in the first period.
"They doubled our score early in the game and our girls were struggling a little bit to find their way," Baxter said. "They were fighting through a game plan we had developed, and I'll take responsibility for the game plan. The game plan was to defend them the way we did and at times we got a little stagnant because that's not always the way we have played defense this year."
The Lady Indians made up all the ground it lost in the first period before the start of the fourth quarter. Kennett won the second period 15-11 to trim the deficit to 28-20 by halftime. Kennett outscored South Pemiscot 21-13 in the third period to force a 41-41 tie by the start of the fourth quarter.
"The first quarter we came out and guarded," South Pemiscot coach Nick Nealey said. "In the third quarter our kids were afraid to get down and guard. We were getting out of the way because we were afraid we would pick up fouls."
Neither team led by more than six in the final eight minutes. South Pemiscot's largest lead in the fourth quarter was four. Kennett's biggest lead was six.
"I don't think it should have been that close at the end," Nealey said. "We put them in a position where they could shoot free throws in the second half and get a lead on us. I think our kids got a little frustrated with the crowd and some other things that were going on in the environment tonight. I think that played a larger impact than it should have tonight, but we look forward to playing them again with hopefully a different outcome."
South Pemiscot led the game 47-43 when Takenya Houston fouled out with 6:12 remaining. Kennett went on a 10-0 run after Houston fouled out to take a 53-47 lead with 2:03 left.
"I told the bench when Houston fouled out 'we have to attack the low block now because they probably cannot defend us down there,'" Baxter said. "We are pretty athletic with Wynne, Shetley, Lockhert and Hounihan. Our guards are no slouches either."
The Lady Bulldogs' Shephard tallied six points in 33 seconds to tie the game at 53-53. Kennett moved back on top 56-53 after Kate Shetley hit two free throws with 49 seconds left and Anna Kay Hilburn made a free throw with 32 seconds left.
South Pemiscot cut the margin to 56-55 when Alisha Campbell scored in the paint after collecting an offensive rebound with 13 seconds remaining.
Abmeyer followed by making two free throws to push the margin back to three. The Lady Indians finished 11 of 26 from the charity stripe, but hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final minute of regulation to account for its final five points.
"You have those people you want to go to the line at the end of the game," Baxter said of the free-throw-shooting. "I'll be the first to say we have not had a good shooting percentage as a team this year. We've been below 50 percent in a lot of games. These girls come in every morning at 7 a.m. and shoot free throws. It paid off tonight and we talked about that in the locker room after the game."
Hounihan finished with a team-high 23 points for Kennett. Abmeyer tallied 12 points.
Shephard finished with a game-high 35 points. She hit all three of the Lady Bulldogs' treys. She was 6 of 15 from the free-throw-line.
"She did what she normally does," Nealey said. "The only difference tonight was we had a few kids that didn't knock down shots like they normally do. If they knock down shots it's a different game."
Campbell tallied five of her 11 points in the fourth period. She was the only player outside of Shephard who scored in the fourth quarter for South Pemiscot.
Kennett won the junior varsity game against South Pemiscot 38-26.
According to school officials at multiple Bootheel Conference schools South Pemiscot, Portageville and Senath-Hornersville finish in a 3-way tie for second place in the Bootheel Conference with matching 5-2 regular-season conference records. Senath-Hornersville defeated Portageville, Portageville won a game against South Pemiscot by forfeit and South Pemiscot defeated Senath-Hornersville. A drawing to determine if South Pemiscot, Senath-Hornersville or Portageville will receive the No. 2 seed will take place in the next 24 hours.
Hayti finished (3-4) in regular-season conference play. It will be the No. 5 seed in the varsity Bootheel Conference Tournament, which will take place Feb. 2, 4 and 7 at Kennett High School. Campbell (2-5) is the No. 6 seed; Malden (1-6) is the No. 7 seed; and Caruthersville (0-7) is the No. 8 seed.
Kennett will host Notre Dame Regional High School Thursday before it begins play in the Bootheel Conference Tournament Saturday. South Pemiscot will host Neelyville Thursday before beginning play in its conference tournament Saturday. The times for all Bootheel Conference tournament games will be available in an upcoming edition of Daily Dunklin Democrat.
"We are going to relish being the No. 1 seed at a home tournament the final time we are in the Bootheel Conference," Baxter said.
Kennett's Kate Shetley attempts to block a shot by South Pemiscot's Carrie Shepard Monday night. [Order this photo]
SPS 17 11 13 14 - 55
KHS 5 15 21 17 -58
SOUTH PEMISCOT (55) - Carrie Shephard 35, Madison Henley 2, Alisha Campbell 11, Takenya Houston 2, Natalie Crockett 4, Michaela Mays 1. FG 21, FT 10/21, F 20. (3-pointers: Shephard 3. Fouled out: Henley, Houston)
KENNETT (58) - Lara Abmeyer 12, Khadijah Whitfield 2, Shon Wynne 6, Kenna Hounihan 23, Kate Shetley 4, Anna Kay Hilburn 4, Logan Vaughan 7. FG 22, FT 11/26, F 15. (3-pointers: Abmeyer 2, Vaughan 1. Fouled out: Whitfield)
South Pemiscot's Alisha Campbell is surrounded by Kennett defenders Kenna Hounihan (left), Logan Vaughan (middle) and Shon Wynne (right). [Order this photo]