Lady Hurricane, Lady Devils to decide 5A title

Jonesboro’s Ereauna Hardaway drives during Monday’s Class 5A state semifinal victory over Marion. The Lady Hurricane will play West Memphis in Saturday’s championship game in Hot Springs.

JONESBORO — The last team standing in Jonesboro’s path to the Class 5A state championship is an opponent the Lady Hurricane knows very well.

Jonesboro and West Memphis will meet for the fourth time this season in Saturday’s state championship game at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs. The teams played twice in the 5A-East regular-season race, then squared off again in the conference tournament.

The Lady Hurricane (22-6) won all three meetings, something that makes coach Jodi Christenberry uneasy entering this meeting with the surprising Lady Devils (11-14).

“We’re still scouting as if we don’t know them because they’re a different team than what they were in January, and then we played them in February and March,” Christenberry said. “The part I don’t like is this will be the fourth time we play them and I was part of one of those teams way back in the day when I played where a team beat us three times and we came up and beat them the fourth time because we finally figured it out. West Memphis is good. They can figure it out and that’s what worries me.

“I like playing teams that have never played us. It kind of gives us that edge in my opinion of being able to do something a little different or them having to figure out our personnel a little bit more.”

Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday’s game will be televised live by Arkansas PBS (cable channel 2 in Jonesboro) and the Jonesboro radio broadcast will be on KWHF (FM-95.9).

Jonesboro eked out a 53-47 overtime victory when the teams played in January at Don Riggs Hurricane Gym. The Lady Hurricane had an easier time at West Memphis, rolling to a 48-31 victory, and prevailed 52-44 in the conference tournament semifinals on their home floor.

The second meeting between the teams was Jonesboro’s last before winter weather wiped out the rest of the 5A-East schedule. Christenberry added a home game against Class 2A power Melbourne so her team could get back on the court before the postseason.

While that game turned into a 58-29 loss, Christenberry said it served as a wake-up call for the Lady Hurricane.

“I even thanked the Melbourne coach in a text after we played a couple games and looked really good,” Christenberry said. “I thanked him for beating us by 30 because it was one of those moments as a player where you have to figure out, ‘Am I OK with this? Do I want to step up or am I ready for the season to be over?’ We decided we weren’t ready for the season to be over.”

Jonesboro, which was seeded third in the conference tournament, has since won six straight games. The Lady Hurricane defeated Greene County Tech, West Memphis and Batesville to win the 5A-East tournament, then eliminated Beebe, Greenwood and Marion in the state tournament.

“I think we’re all excited and we’re confident,” junior point guard Ereauna Hardaway said. “We’re ready to come in and play.”

Hardaway averages 14 points and six assists to lead the Lady Hurricane.

Junior center Destiny Thomas adds 11.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, while senior guard Lakiya Scott adds 10.4 points per game while shooting 36.6 percent from the 3-point line. Senior forward Chasity Jackson is a key defensive player and a perimeter threat who sank three 3-pointers in Monday’s semifinal game against Marion.

West Memphis also features a standout point guard in sophomore Janiyah Tucker, who averages 15.8 points per game. Clemisha Prackett, a 6-1 sophomore center, averages 11 points. The Lady Devils also count on freshman guard Aniya Price and senior forward Ta’nya Burnett for more than seven points per game.

With two sophomores and a freshman in the lineup, the Lady Devils went 1-11 in the 5A-East and were seeded seventh in the conference tournament. They upset Paragould in the first round to earn a state tournament berth and, after losing to Jonesboro in the semifinals, beat Marion for a No. 3 seed in the state tournament. West Memphis defeated Sylvan Hills, Lake Hamilton and Vilonia to reach the state tournament final.

Jonesboro is playing in the state championship game for the fourth time in six seasons. The Lady Hurricane won state championships in 2016 and 2018.

Two years ago, Jonesboro suffered a 63-35 loss to Little Rock Christian in the state finals.

“That game was sad. We worked hard and got to the championship game, and we lost. It hurt us,” Hardaway said. “To go back again, it’s very exciting.”