HOT SPRINGS -- Farmington and Nashville once again kept fans on the edge of their seats, meeting for the second straight year in the Class 4A State girls basketball finals.
Farmington evened the championship series at one game apiece by holding off a ferocious Nashville surge to prevail, 65-61, with the right to receive and hoist aloft the state championship trophy on the floor of Bank OZK Arena.
The basic difference in the outcome with Farmington winning 65-61 on Thursday in contrast to Nashville's 42-41 win last season came down to the Lady Cardinals finding the basket at key times, something they couldn't do down the stretch in 2022.
"To see these kids, see the hurt in their eyes for 365 days or so after last year, to know what they felt was debilitating," Farmington Coach Brad Johnson said. "But the awesome thing about them is the character and how much they love each other, how much they love their community. Just the sense of pride they took in coming back to work and fight. With this game, us and Nashville, we knew it might come at some point, but we never wanted to make it about revenge. Reese Shirey said it best, it was about redemption. We had a chance to come back, get on this stage and try to play our best."
Statistically, Jenna Lawrence achieved a milestone going over 1,000 rebounds for her storied career that featured four trips to the state finals, two with Melbourne and twice with Farmington. Her last two rebounds, on the offensive end, after missing a mid-range jump shot, loomed as large as any along her journey. Teammate Zoey Bershers grabbed Lawrence's initial miss, but couldn't score as the Lady Cardinals pounded the offensive glass.
Lawrence followed Bershers, scoring on her second try to provide Farmington a 4-point cushion at 63-59.
"I was prepared to do anything for my team at that point. They were scoring, we were scoring, it was real tight game so every possession counts, so I just need to go out there, I need to do my job and get some rebounds, get some points up there and I was thinking about what happened last year and I'm like 'that is not going to happen again,'" and sure enough it didn't," Lawrence said.
Nashville's senior tandem of Kyleigh Scoggins (4-of-15, 12 points), and Lauren Carver (3-of-11, 7 points) didn't shoot well against a tall Lady Cardinal squad that featured three six-footers, plus 5-feet-11 guard Marin Adams, but rallied their teammates after Adams' driving bank shot gave Farmington it's largest lead of 54-38 with just inside a minute-and-a-half to play in the third quarter.
"These two moved up [to varsity] as ninth graders when I moved to Nashville. They didn't know they wanted to move up. I can't brag on them enough, but I'm proud of them and ...," said Nashville coach Paul Dean before he broke off choking back tears. "I'm very proud of them, I'm very fortunate to be their coach and I appreciate it very much spending four years with them."
Scoggins scored five straight points, including a 3-pointer, sandwiched around a pair of Adams free throws, to pull the Scrapperettes within 59-57 with barely two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
In the postgame press conference someone asked, "What does it mean to be a Scraper?"
"It just means never giving up. I mean, I don't think we really gave up," Scoggins said before she, too, paused to choke back tears.
At that juncture, like a good teammate, Carver responded, "We were down by 16 at one point and we just never gave up. We came back and it was a two-point ball game and we just couldn't finish it," Carver said.
Paul Dean, whose daughters, Olivia, a senior, and Caroline, a sophomore, were playing in their second straight finals, called time-out with 1:55 showing.
"I didn't even have to say anything. The kids said, 'we all got to do a little bit more and we can make up the difference,' and I was proud of our effort," Paul Dean said.
Nashville tied the game at 59-59 on Carver's putback, but in the storm of adversity, after getting outscored 21-5 over a 7:52 span Farmington righted the ship.
Farmington's best free-throw shooter, Reese Shirey, dusted herself off after taking a hard foul, and sank both ends of a 1-and-1 nine seconds later restoring the lead to the Lady Cardinals.
Nashville got off a 3-pointer but the 6-feet-3 Lawrence contested Jessie Lyle's shot and it was off. An all-out-fight for the rebound ensued, but the ball went out-of-bounds last touched by Nashville.
Lawrence's putback gave Farmington a 63-59 lead, but Nashville wasn't going away quietly.
Scoggins' runner kept the Scrapperettes in the game, down 63-61 and a time-out stopped the clock with 12.2 seconds left.
In the end the Lady Cardinals didn't have to be perfect, just get the job done, and although both Lawrence and Shirey would miss a free throw in the closing seconds, they each made one to push the lead to three points, then four and close out the state championship.
"It feels amazing, all the pressure in my body is gone now. All year we've been preparing for this game. Every since district started we were preparing for Nashville so the fact that it's over, we won, we did our job, just means the world for me and my team and Coach Johnson," Lawrence said.