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Lady Panthers fall in heartbreaker

One-point loss eliminates Siloam Springs in quarterfinals by Graham Thomas | March 8, 2023 at 8:55 a.m.
Mark Ross/Special to the Herald-Leader Siloam Springs senior Brooke Smith (right) brings the ball up the floor as Paragould's Reese Roleson defends during Wednesday's opening round game at the Class 5A state tournament at Pine Bluff Convention Center. Siloam Springs defeated Paragould 40-39.

PINE BLUFF -- Just one night after winning a one-point thriller to keep their season alive, Siloam Springs' girls saw their season end in heart-breaking fashion -- by one point.

Siloam Springs turned the ball over with 5.4 seconds left and Vilonia was able to run off the remaining time and hold on for a 49-48 victory to end the Lady Panthers' season Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the 5A state tournament at Pine Bluff Convention Center.

The Lady Panthers, who fell behind by 10 points in the third quarter, stormed all the way back in the fourth to take a pair of one-point leads, including a 48-47 advantage with 17.9 seconds remaining on a Brooke Smith basket inside.

Vilonia came back on the other end and found its lone senior, Bailey Sims, and she was fouled hard with 9.6 seconds remaining while attempting a shot.

Sims coolly hit two free throws to give the Lady Eagles (27-4) the lead.

"I didn't know if (Sims) was getting back up," said Vilonia coach Jeremy Simon. "She has been an amazing free throw shooter for us down the stretch. Down the stretch of a game, I'll be she's shooting about 90 percent. She went to the free-throw line I felt pretty comfortable she would at least tie the game up for us. But what a play -- hitting two free throws and we got the stop on the other end."

Siloam Springs inbounded the ball and raced ahead near midcourt before calling timeout with 5.4 seconds left to try and set up a game-winner.

But Vilonia defended the final play extremely well and Sophie Stephenson's inbound pass was just out of reach for Brooke Ross, and Vilonia's Sidni Middleton ran down the loose ball as the final seconds ticked off.

"We were trying to get Mimo (Jacklik) cutting off the double screen early to the corner and curl Smith right behind her, a little tailcut, and get her the ball going downhill where she can create and kick potentially if they suck in off Mimo," said Siloam Springs coach Beau Tillery. "If we couldn't get it to either one of them, we were popping Ross like we did and we were going to try get it to her and let Smith turn and post and either look for Smith or a little stick down there and go to work in the post. Unfortunately we threw it outside her hand by about six inches and that was all she wrote."

The loss ends the season at 20-10 overall for Siloam Springs, as the Lady Panthers overcame an 0-4 start to the season and 4-7 mark after 11 games, winning 16 of their last 19 games in their first year under Tillery.

The team will graduate a large, successful senior class that's won 52 games in three years and the program's first state tournament win since 2016.

"It's tough," Tillery said. "You know with that group specifically, they've made me a better coach. They're a great group of kids. It sucks we couldn't have them for longer. It sucks that it's a one-year deal. but (we told them) that we love them. Felt like we should have won. We felt like we were the better team. (There was) just had a four minute lapse where we weren't."

With the game tied 23-23 at halftime, Vilonia opened the second half on a 10-0 tear to take a 33-23 lead.

Maddie Mannion knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to bookend that run, and Vilonia got big baskets from Sims and Middleton to put Siloam Springs in a hole.

"Early on, 23 (Mannion) comes out and hits a couple and we literally had just talked at halftime they've got one kid that can make a three," said Tillery, who had to burn a couple of timeouts early in the second half. "One kid and it's 23, and we talked about guarding her a little bit better and cleaning up the turnovers. I think we had eight in the first half, so that was our halftime talk. And we don't do that. We let her come right out and hit two.

"That was what we chewed them on a little bit in the first timeout. Then we gave up four offensive boards there in the first two possessions when we had given up none in the first half. We had that talk in the first timeout and they stretch it to 10-12, whatever it was, we get another one just to stop the bleeding. We switched up our defense a little bit, talked about how we were going to guard them and what we were going to do."

A late surge from Siloam Springs allowed the Lady Panthers to cut the lead to 35-30, and Siloam Springs trailed 36-30 entering the fourth quarter.

Siloam Springs went to an inverted triangle-and-two defense and went to work defensively, which led to a run on the offensive end.

"We had a hard time scoring on it a lot," Simon said. "We got the ball in the high post a lot and did some good things out of it. I think it was an inverted triangle-and-two they were running there late. That was a great decision by their coach. We had a hard time. We talked about we could see some junk defense in the state tournament. Teams will throw anything at you that you haven't seen all year. He did a great job of putting his team in a position to win the game. They ran some great stuff."

Mimo Jacklik and Ross splashed 3-pointers early in the fourth and Anna Wleklinski and Faith Ellis scored buckets inside as Siloam Springs opened on a 10-4 run to tie the ballgame at 40.

Vilonia caught a break when Abbie Wertz banked in a 3-pointer from the corner to give the Lady Eagles a 43-40 lead.

Ross cut it to 43-42 after she grabbed an offensive rebound of a missed Ellis free throw and was fouled herself and hit both foul shots to cut it to 43-42.

Sims scored to make it 45-42, but Jacklik hit a pair at the line to cut it back to one.

Ross gave Siloam Springs a 46-45 lead with 2:18 left and the Lady Panthers had a couple of opportunities to extend the lead after forcing a couple of Vilonia turnovers but couldn't get a shot to fall.

Wertz scored for Vilonia to go up 47-46, and Stephenson missed a 3-pointer on the other end.

But the Lady Panthers forced a Vilonia turnover with 27.6 seconds left setting up Smith's basket to take a 48-47 lead.

"It's going to be a game of ups and downs," Tillery said. "It's going to be a game of runs. We've got to stay even keel. We can be up 10 and get back in it or they can be up 10 and get back in it. It just turned out they were and we did. We just didn't get to finish it off like we wanted to."

Vilonia hit 17 of 40 shots from the field, including 6 of 21 from behind the 3-point line.

Mannion hit four of those treys and finished with 12 points, while Middleton and Sims also had 12 points.

Siloam Springs was 17 of 43 from the field and 5 of 22 from long range.

Jacklik hit three 3-pointers and led Siloam Springs with 16 points in her final game, while Ross -- who battled foul trouble and sat most of the first half with three fouls -- had 13 points. Smith finished with eight points, while Wleklinski had four, Stephenson three and Emily Keehn and Ellis each with two.

Vilonia 49, Siloam Springs 48

Siloam Springs^12^11^7^18^--^48


Siloam Springs (20-10): Jacklik 16, Ross 13, Smith 8, Wleklinski 4, Stephenson 3, Keehn 2, Ellis 2.

Vilonia (27-4): Mannion 12, Middleton 12, Sims 12, Mears 5, Wertz 5, Heston 3.

Siloam Springs 40, Paragould 39

Brooke Smith came up with one of the biggest plays of her career to help Siloam Springs secure its first state tournament victory since 2016.

Smith blocked a Kalyn Lamb shot with 10 seconds left, hustled to secure a rebound and fell to her knees while still smartly maintaining a dribble before giving way to a teammate.

After a Siloam Springs timeout with four seconds left, Smith inbounded the ball to Brooke Ross, who gave it back to Smith and she raced to the other end of the court to run off the final seconds as Siloam Springs defeated Paragould 40-39 at Pine Bluff Convention Center.

"Honestly, they've been calling fouls this whole time," Smith said of the final sequence. "I was like, if they're going to make it, they're going to make it. But the least I can do is take a charge or stand straight up. Luckily she went right in my hands. I got the rebound. I fell, but I kept the dribble somehow. I got it to my teammate. We were just lucky to get out of that one. I'm not going to lie."

When Smith went to her knees, coach Beau Tillery was trying to get a timeout and the officials finally granted it to him as Siloam Springs was running down the other end of the floor trying to run clock.

"I was trying to get a timeout to get us bailed out of that situation and then didn't get it until later and I kind of regretted it," Tillery said. "But it worked out and (Smith) made a really heads up play to dribble back court and run some time."

In the timeout, Tillery reminded the Lady Panthers they had another timeout to burn if they had trouble getting the ball in. That they were able to run the clock out was just an added bonus, he said.

"Listen, we just tried to get it in and I said don't force it," Tillery said. "We will get a timeout if we can't get it in. We've got one left. Just make a smart pass, smart decision. Luckily the big girl (Lamb) jumped out on Mimo. Ross was wide open, got it right back to Smith, and it was just Smith making a heads up play and saying, 'Hey what's the point of dribbling down the floor and messing with shooting free throws when I can just run it out'?"

Siloam Springs led Paragould 36-24 entering the fourth quarter but the motivated Lady Rams, who were without head coach Sonja Tate after she was ejected in the third quarter, went on a 12-0 run to open the fourth quarter and tie the game 36-36.

Siloam Springs went back in front 38-36 with 3 minutes, 34 seconds remaining when Mimo Jacklik hit 2 of 3 free throws after being fouled on a 3-point shot.

Lamb answered back to tie the game 38-38 with a bucket.

Siloam Springs went in front 40-38 when Emily Keehn grabbed an offensive rebound of a missed Brooke Ross shot and scored.

Neither team scored until 53.8 left when Paragould's Mikayla Lambert was fouled on a 3-pointer, but she missed the first two shots and hit the last one to make it 40-39.

Brooke Ross was fouled with 26.7 left but she missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and Paragould rebounded, setting up the critical final seconds.

"Man, they guarded so well," said Tillery. "We started settling a little late for threes and then we got in foul trouble. We're not as comfortable or fluid running our offense with some of our subs in. Credit to them. They kept playing for their season. Best player out, coach out, lot of foul trouble and they kept battling and found a way to hit big shots and kept chipping away at it, chipping away at it. We went cold. They made shots. Really good by them. They're a really good team. Coached really well. Our girls just kept fighting and stuck with it."

Paragould's Shakira Brown hit two 3-pointers and two free throws in the first quarter for all of Paragould's points as the Lady Rams led 8-7 after the first quarter.

Siloam Springs outscored Paragould 15-8 in the second quarter to take a 22-16 lead at halftime.

Ross hit a free throw to tie the game and Sophie Stephenson connected on a 3-pointer for an 11-8 lead.

Mimo Jacklik converted an old fashioned three-point play go to up 14-8.

Smith hit four straight free throws for a 18-13 lead, and Keehn split a pair to go up 19-13.

Kelee Lamb hit a 3-pointer to bring the Lady Rams within 19-16, but Ross hit a late 3-pointer before halftime as Siloam Springs led 22-16.

Ross scored inside to answer an early Paragould bucket in the third, and Tate was hit with her first technical with 5:23 left in the quarter. Ross hit 1 of 2 foul shots, and the Lady Panthers were called for an offensive foul.

But Tate then received her second technical foul just 22 seconds later and Ross hit both shots for a 27-18 lead. Jacklik was then fouled and hit two more for a 29-17 lead.

Smith buried a 3-pointer in front of the Siloam Springs bench for a 33-21 lead and with 43.2 seconds left in the third Smith converted a three-point play to put Siloam Springs up 36-24.

Paragould hit 11 of 39 shots from the field, including 7 of 20 from behind the 3-point line and 10 of 14 foul shots.

Dixie Williams led Paragould with 13 points, while Brown had 11.

Ross led Siloam Springs with 13 points, while Jacklik had 11 and Smith nine points and 12 rebounds. The Lady Panthers hit 9 of 31 shots from the field and 4 of 15 from behind the 3-point line and 18 of 25 free throws.

Tillery said the Lady Panthers knew they would have a battle.

"Every night is. That's what we kind of emphasized early on," he said. "It would be really nice to have a cupcake first round, but that's not the case any game here. It's going to be a battle of wills and a battle of hey who's going to execute at the right time and hit big shots? We were lucky enough to hang on."

Siloam Springs 40, Paragould 30


Siloam Springs^7^15^14^4^--^40

Paragould (17-10): Williams 13, Brown 11, Lambert 5, Ka. Lamb 4, Ke. Lamb 3, Roleson 3.

Siloam Springs (20-9): Ross 13, Jacklik 11, Smith 9, Keehn 4, Stephenson 3.

  photo  Mark Ross/Special to the Herald-Leader Siloam Springs senior Brooke Ross tries to make a play as Vilonia's Sidni Middleton defends on the play Thursday, March 2, in the Class 5A state tournament at Pine Bluff Convention Center.
  photo  Mark Ross/Special to the Herald-Leader Siloam Springs senior Anna Wleklinski (left) consoles teammate and fellow senior Mimo Jacklik moments after the Lady Panthers were eliminated from the Class 5A state tournament with a 49-48 loss to Vilonia in the quarterfinals on Thursday, March 2, at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
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