Coming into Bank of the Ozarks Arena Thursday as the defending 2A state champions, the Quitman Lady Bulldogs came up short in their efforts to defend their title, falling short to Earle 48-43 in a close game that would be decided in the final minute.

Lucy Holland scored the first points of the game after turning an offensive rebound into two made free throws before RoShala Scott and Alexandria Logan combined for eight of Earle’s first ten points, as the Lady Bulldogs of Crittenden County held a 10-7 lead after one quarter. Earle added to their cause in the second session of play with a 7-2 run led by a layup and triple from Scott to go with a lay-in from Colbi Maples. The Lady Bulldogs of Cleburne County stayed in it with a steal and score on a fastbreak from Josey Bradley to compliment Savannah Henry’s putback and Holland’s made shot off the glass, as the teams went into intermission with Earle clinging to a slim 23-19 lead.

Two free throws from Rieley Hooten cut it to a one-possession game, but Scott would provide two baskets from in close before knocking down a jumper with 3:09 left in the third frame. Quitman would respond with Aspen Johnson and Holland making six free throws together to pull within one at 31-30 at the 1:04 mark, as Maples buried a shot in the paint and Johnson split at the charity stripe to make it a two-point affair with just eight more minutes remaining.

Hooten got the final quarter started with a putback on her own miss to tie the game, with Scott and Logan both adding to their stat lines with layups before Holland scored from the block, Hooten swished a free throw and Henry added a pullup jumper to give Quitman their first lead since early in the first quarter at 38-37 with 3:02 to go.

Earle would strike right back just ten seconds later after Maples found Logan inside for a score before Scott’s free throw attempt came up short, giving Quitman a chance to take back the lead once more. Elaijha Brown converted a steal into a made free throw with 2:00 remaining, resulting into Henry going one for two on foul shots. The ensuing Earle possession would bring the biggest basket of the contest: a three-pointer from the right corner for Maples, coming with 1:39 to go to make it a two-possession game.

Holland muscled her way in for an offensive stick back before Scott got an offensive rebound of her own and turned her missed three-point attempt into a lay-up with under a minute to go. Twenty seconds later, Hooten was able to haul in her own miss and draw a foul near the rim, draining both shots from the line to set the score at 45-43 with thirty ticks left. Scott would split two free throws to give Quitman a chance to tie the game, however a Nicki Hooten turnover with 16 seconds left forced a foul to send Scott back to the charity stripe, who put the game away with two shots that hit nothing but nylon.

Scott led Earle (30-5) with a game high 20 points to go with 11 rebounds, as Logan followed with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Quitman (35-4) was led by Holland, who turned in 18 points and a game-high 16 rebounds, going a perfect 10-10 on free throws. Rieley Hooten clocked out with 10 points and 10 rebounds in her final game in a Lady Bulldog uniform. This is Earle’s second state title after winning it all in 2016.

“It was amazing getting to play for my dad,” said Rieley Hooten, the daughter of coach Tim Hooten. “It really helped our bond and I am blessed to get to play alongside my best friends in this place for one final time.” With the 2018 campaign coming to an end, Coach Hooten had high hopes about 2019, as the team will return twelve underclassmen, including Holland and leading scorer Nicki Hooten back to the lineup. “Nicki is only a junior so we get her back for one more year, and we have a talented sophomore class that has experience, so we have a good chance to make it back here again next season.”

Quitman took titles in the Greers Ferry Lake Classic, the district tournament, and the regional tournament over the course of year.