JONESBORO — One of the state’s best players kept the Nettleton Lady Raiders from upsetting one of the state’s best teams Friday night.
Batesville guard Izzy Higginbottom poured in 37 points to help the Lady Pioneers fend off the determined Lady Raiders 51-43 in 5A-East conference basketball. Scoring inside and out, Higginbottom kept her team just in front of Nettleton in the final three-plus quarters.
“Isabella is as good a high school player as I’ve ever coached against and I felt she was even better than that tonight,” Nettleton coach Jason Smith said. “She’s absolutely awesome, but she was like the next step above awesome tonight and we still had a chance. The lesson learned is that every box out matters and every pass matters. I couldn’t ask for more from my kids tonight.”
Nettleton (11-5, 2-3 conference) controlled the tempo in giving Batesville (14-0, 5-0) one of its toughest games of the season. The Lady Pioneers are ranked fourth overall in the state and No. 1 in Class 5A in the Arkansas Sports Media poll.
Higginbottom, a senior guard who has signed with Missouri, had an answer when the Lady Raiders made their final push in the fourth quarter.
Down 44-34 with 3:49 remaining after a 7-0 Batesville run, Nettleton scored the next seven points. Briley Pena sank a 3-pointer, then came up with a steal and made two free throws to pull the Lady Raiders within five points with 2:06 remaining.
Wakiryah Daniels scored off a steal to cut Batesville’s lead to 44-41, forcing the Lady Pioneers to call time with 1:52 remaining. Higginbottom scored on a layup with 1:17 remaining and made four free throws in the final minute to seal her team’s victory.
Pena finished with 19 points to lead Nettleton. Laila Eliotti added 14 points, a total that included four 3-pointers, and Daniels added 10 points to wrap up the Lady Raiders’ scoring.
Nettleton started each possession by working the ball around the perimeter, forcing Batesville to spend more time on the defensive end.
“It was something we had worked on to try to get 12 or 13 seconds every trip. They live off possessions,” Smith said. “They want as many possessions as we wanted last year and we just can’t play that way right now. It was just a tempo deal.”
Higginbottom, who finished with four 3s, scored 13 points in the first quarter to help Batesville grab a 15-13 lead. She scored eight points in the second quarter as the Lady Pioneers took a 27-23 halftime lead.
Batesville opened a 34-25 lead on Kaylee Clark’s 3 midway through the third quarter. Daniels and Pena converted back-to-back three-point plays as Nettleton closed within 34-31 with 1:39 left in the quarter.
The Lady Raiders turned the ball over while holding for the final shot of the period. Higginbottom made one of two free throws with 3.6 seconds left and Kayla Ward scored after rebounding the miss, giving Batesville a 37-31 lead through three quarters.
“I’m proud of my kids,” Smith said. “Stan (Fowler) has a great bunch. Lord willing and they stay healthy, they’ve got a real shot.”