By Joel Gray
Harrison, AR—SAU Tech traveled to North Arkansas on Saturday (2/16) for a much-anticipated rematch with the Pioneers, after falling to them at home just fifteen days earlier when the Lady Rockets lost a hard-fought, back-and-forth game with the #6 Lady Pioneers, 64-58, and the Rocket Men came up short to the NorthArk men in an even closer contest, 97-95.
The second time around was just as intense as the first, as these squads of the Region 2 Conference’s finest fell right into step where they’d left off in their first meetings. The women’s game was almost a replay of the showdown in Shaddock Fieldhouse, and the #6 NorthArk women pulled it out once again in the Pioneer Pavilion, 76-67. The men, too, seemed destined to repeat themselves, going into halftime tied up on the scoreboard just as they had in Camden, but the Rockets roared out of the locker room and reversed the previous outcome, this time getting the victory, 113-101.
The night’s first game featured the Lady Rockets trailing by 3 points at the end of the 1st quarter, 16-13, but fighting back for a 2-point lead at intermission, 36-34. In the 3rd quarter, the teams played almost even, ending with the Tech women still holding onto a narrow 1-point advantage, 53-52. But in the final period, the #6 Lady Pioneers outscored the Rockets, 24-14, to set the 9-point difference in their favor.
NorthArk improved to 21-5 overall, and—more importantly—4-0 in Region 2 play, removing any doubt that they are the justified champions of the conference despite being the only team eligible for the title. Three Lady Pioneers put double-digits on the scoreboard, with Grace Coates topping her teammates with a total of 23.
SAU Tech fell to 10-6 overall, and 1-2 in league play, while placing three scorers in double- digits. Brandashia Hargraves led the way with 22 points, of which 12 came from beyond the arc as she sank four 3-pointers. Alex Parris was next with 17, followed by Haggar Caldwell with 12.
The Lady Rockets will close out their first season of basketball by hosting the final Region 2 game for themselves and the National Park Lady Nighthawks, at Shaddock Fieldhouse in Camden, AR, on Thursday, 2/28. Tip-off is set for 5 pm.
After the women’s game, the men took to the floor of Pioneer Pavilion, and it seemed at first that NorthArk would run away and win easily this time, as they jumped out to a 20-point lead, 32-12, within the first ten minutes of the 1st half. But the Rockets regrouped, and by halftime they had drawn even for a tie, 42-42. Then, after the break, the Tech men blasted the boards on the strength of the 2nd half play of Malik Miller, Jaland Mitchell, and Mike Boatright, who helped their team to outscore NorthArk 71-59 the rest of the way.
The Pioneers dropped to 19-10 and 3-3, despite having four players with double-digits, and three with multiple 3-pointers. Not even the outstanding play of Garrett Kesterson, who led his team with 28 points, including an impressive 7 treys, could keep NorthArk from coming up 12 points short of the Rockets.
With the terrific win, SAU Tech improved to 17-9 overall, and 3-1 in the R2C. Four Rockets racked-up 10 points or more, led by Miller’s 29—21 of which came in the 2nd half. Sheldon Steven was next with 25, including five 3-pointers. Then it was Mitchell (19—15 in the 2nd half), followed by Boatright (16—10 in the 2nd half). Miller and Boatright also had 2-treys each.
The SAU Tech men next travel to Poplar Bluff, MO for a non-conference rematch with Division-I Three Rivers College, on Tuesday, 2/19. Tip-off is at 7 pm.