JONESBORO — Nettleton and Greene County Tech gave up points grudgingly in their 5A-East conference girls’ basketball opener Friday at Raider Gym.
The Lady Raiders and Lady Eagles waged a defensive battle that went the home team’s way in the final minutes. Nettleton closed the game on a 10-2 run to earn a 38-34 victory.
Nettleton coach Jason Smith said the game reminded him of conference battles in seasons past.
“I told the kids that takes us back to 2007-2008 5A-East basketball right there. You miss those days and those grind-it-out games,” Smith said. “The margin was so small; they won the first quarter, and we won the other quarters and win by four points. What a battle. I’m so proud of our kids and their kids. It was just a good, tough defensive game.”
GCT (9-4, 0-1 conference) led 32-28 after Rylee Branch hit a 3-pointer with 3:37 left in the game. More than three minutes would pass before the Lady Eagles scored again, however.
Nettleton’s Diamond Kimble made one of two free throws with 3:13 to go. Briley Pena, held in check most of the night, scored off a steal with 2:27 to go to bring the Lady Raiders (13-4, 1-0 conference) within 32-31.
McKenzie Williams came up with a defensive rebound and Pena drew a foul with 1:23 remaining, then made two free throws to give the Lady Raiders a 33-32 lead.
Nettleton’s D’Maria Daniels came up with a steal at the 1:13 mark. Forced to foul, the Lady Eagles put Pena on the line, and she made two free throws for a 35-32 Lady Raider lead with 48 seconds to go.
Pena came up with a defensive rebound that led to Carmen McShan making two foul shots with 22.5 seconds to play. Branch broke the Lady Eagles’ drought with 16 seconds to go, making the score 37-34, but McShan added another free throw to set the final score.
“Every time we play them, it seems like it comes right down to the end. I thought we did a really good job defensively and so did they,” GCT coach Matt Dean said. “It was a struggle to score. They were just able to get the lead at the last. Pena is a good free throw shooter and when you have to foul her, it’s not good news. I thought both teams played really well and played really hard.”
Nettleton won on a night when missing four players, including one starter, due to health and safety protocols.
With the Lady Eagles focused on Pena, Williams scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead the Lady Raiders. Pena scored 10 points; Kimble grabbed five rebounds; and McShan added five assists.
Smith said no one works harder at their craft than Williams.
“She battles and she’s gotten so much better defensively in the past year. They tried to pick on her tonight, but I felt that she more than held her own,” Smith said. “If people are going to play us in a diamond or a box, if we can get it in there to McKenzie Williams, we feel pretty good about it.”
Kylie Stokes scored 12 points and Branch added 11 for GCT.
GCT scored the last five points of the first quarter for an 8-6 lead. Allyson Lenderman sank a 3 and Williams converted a three-point play as Nettleton opened the second quarter with an 8-0 run, but GCT scored the last five points to close within 14-13 at halftime.
Stokes made two 3s in the third quarter as the Lady Eagles built as much as a five-point lead in the period, but Lenderman hit another 3 and Williams scored as Nettleton took a 23-22 lead into the fourth quarter.
Nettleton travels to Marion on Tuesday, while GCT hosts Batesville.