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McNeese State basketball standouts Ashlyn, left, and Caitlyn Baggett. (Rick Hickman / American Press)

McNeese State basketball standouts Ashlyn, left, and Caitlyn Baggett. (Rick Hickman / American Press)

Gazzolo Column: Sugar Bears make Baggetts' last day sour

Last Modified: Saturday, March 02, 2013 7:03 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

On a day of celebration, a bunch of Sugar Bears crashed the party.

Really, only one Sugar Bear did it, but the rest of them were just as happy to be a part of breaking up the fun.

A big crowd came to Burton Coliseum yesterday just to say good-bye to a pair of sisters who turned a program around.

The Baggett twins were playing their last game in front of the McNeese State faithful and nothing short of ending it with a victory would seem right.

But Central Arkansas’ Megan Herbert  had other ideas.

Over the past three seasons Herbert has been the biggest pain in the you-know-where to McNeese State, and especially Ashlyn and Caitlyn Baggett. Saturday was no different as she stole the show.

Herbert was the best player on the coliseum floor, finishing with 35 points and 17 rebounds. She ended the day with just as many points as the Baggett twins combined.

That seems unthinkable when you look back on the impact the sisters have had on this program, school and community.

However, it was Herbert’s will to win, or actually not lose again to the Baggetts, that proved the difference.

“It feels good to beat them,” said Herbert, who was likely talking more about her two rivals more than anything else. “This is special.

“They have been so good over the years and are such great players, you want to compete against them. They bring out the best in me and us.”

The best in Herbert and Central Arkansas was enough for a 77-69 overtime win that all but ended the Cowgirls hopes of capturing a piece of the Southland Conference regular-season championship.

Talk about your buzz kill.

“They came into our building earlier this year and really embarrassed us,” said Herbert. “We had a lot to prove.”

It was a far from fitting swan song at Burton for the Baggetts.

They had done so much over the years here, sinking their now-famous rainbow jumpers from all over the arena. But on this day, when they needed their shots to fall the most, they were betrayed by the very jumpers that made them famous.

Both missed their final shots on their home floor.

Even more surprising, with the score tied at the end of regulation and the Cowgirls holding for a final shot, the ball ended up in the hands of Cecilia Okoye.

The dramatic, seeming perfect ending with one sister feeding the other for the game winner never took place.

“We didn’t want one of them to beat us,” Herbert said.

After scoring 21 points in the first half to give McNeese the lead, the twins lost their rhythm. They made 3 of 18 shots from the field after the break.

“It is extremely disappointing for us,” said McNeese head coach Brooks Donald Williams. “We didn’t play our best in front of a big crowd and that is disappointing.

“And I’m disappointed for the twins but also all the girls. This is not the way you want their careers to end.”

Of course, their careers are not over.

They still have at least three games left, two in the regular season. Then they go to Katy, Texas, for the conference tournament, a place that has been good to them the past two years.

The Cowgirls have won the Southland tourney in back-to-back years, gaining their first-ever NCAA berths. That is still the goal, to win three straight.

“It is a new season starting in a week and we have to get ready,” said Donald Williams. “We have to get over this fast. Everything we want is still out there.”

So will be Central Arkansas among others in what looks like it will be a wild open event. All will be gunning for the Cowgirls, trying to knock off the two-time champs.

Especially beating the Baggetts, which few have been able to accomplish since they entered the university.

That is what happens when you have success. The target on your back gets much bigger.

Saturday showed that and also gave us a look at what flaws this team. The Cowgirls were outrebounded 53-38 and gave up 17 second-chance points.

However, in the loss they also may have found a third option to go along with the twins.

Okoye finished with 16 points, 14 in the second half after playing only 7 minutes because of four trouble in the first.

“That will be big for us,” Donald Williams said. “She has played well in each of the last two games and we are going to need her if we want to do anything big.”

Still, for most of the fans, a large portion who left after the women’s game and before the men’s, the day was a total loss.

They had come to see an era end on a high note.

Instead, the Sugar Bears made their day sour.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com.

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