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McLaughlin’s 22 helps BHS girls hand West first loss; Bearden boys upset

It may have been mid-December on the calendar, but Friday's hoops doubleheader against West, played in front of a near-capacity crowd at the Bearden gym, was marked by tournament-like intensity in both games.

That's the way “rivalry games” are.

Bearden's Lady Bulldogs (6-3 overall, 3-0 in District 4-AAA) snapped West's (8-1, 3-1) eight-game winning streak with a 43-40 triumph Dec. 17.

West's boys’ team (9-0, 4-0), however, broke a 47-47 tie after three quarters with a 7-0 run to start the fourth period and hold on to take a 67-66 win over the previously unbeaten Bulldogs (11-1, 2-1; more on boys game later in story) .

Jai-Jai McLaughlin ran the Lady Bulldogs' offense with precision, scoring 22 points to pace the Bearden effort, a figure including 14 of 16 free throws, many at critical times down the stretch.

She made all the requisite “hustle” plays the Lady Bulldogs needed, manifesting a nose for the basketball.

“This team was undefeated, having beaten the two biggest pre-season favorites,” BHS head coach Richard Cowan said, noting that Bearden “was able to dictate the tempo, make enough shots and get a great effort from all our kids. We were able to control the tempo and frustrate them.”

Mallory Uekman knocked home four threes on the night on her way to 16 points, a figure which included 11 in the first half.

“I was open, so I shot it,” Uekman said. “I've been gaining my confidence and this game it finally paid off. I didn't want to get too shot-happy. I wanted to make sure we passed it around and got the good shot down low if we had it.”

Mary-Mc Alexander added five, including three fourth-quarter free throws that proved critical.

McLaughlin stepped to the line time after time to knock down her charity tosses, making 10 in a row to keep the Lady Rebels at bay.

“We've been practicing our shooting a lot, and I was off on my free throws earlier this week,” McLaughlin said. “I wanted to come back, hit my free throws and help my team.”

The Lady Bulldogs led 11-5 after one period and 16-12 at the half. The Lady Rebels carved the lead to one after three quarters, but Bearden showed strength and stamina down the stretch to lead by as many as eight points.

In a boys game that featured an extraordinary amount of talent on the court, West came back from a 9-point deficit (38-29) early in the third quarter to tie the game at 47-47.

The Rebels held the Bulldogs scoreless for the first 3:25 of the fourth period to extend the lead to 54-47 and lead by as much as 10 (62-52) before BHS made its final (and unsuccessful) push.

“In the fourth quarter, they just pounded the boards,” Bearden head coach Mark Blevins said. “In the whole second half, we just couldn't keep them off the boards. That's the No. 1 thing. The No. 2 thing is that we just missed a ton of shots, too. ... The main thing was rebounding. They were just a lot more physical and wore us down.”

Rico White, brilliant at times, led the way for the Bulldogs with 21 points, Drew Standifer had 13, Ty Greene 12 and Dion Fair 11.

“We've been playing against these guys all our lives, and you want to beat them,” White said. “They played a tremendous game tonight. We have just have to box out stronger. We might see them three or four more times. It's going to be a heated battle.”

The Rebels jumped out 9-0 early in the first quarter, but Bearden gradually worked its way back into the game, leading 16-15 after one quarter and 32-26 at halftime. West trailed 43-34 late in the third before a 13-4 run to end the quarter set up the Rebels' fourth quarter push.

Carson Brooks, often unstoppable with the ball in his hands, had 22 for the Rebels.


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