Tuesday, March 08, 2011

SPORTS >> Bulldogs bump off Wildcats in double overtime

Leader sportswriter

SEARCY — The miracles ran out for Harding Academy as Earle beat the Wildcats 70-61 in double overtime in the 3A state quarterfinals at Rhodes Field House on Friday.

The Wildcats (23-7) tied the game late in regulation and sent it into the second overtime on Daniel Stevens’ inside shot with just over three seconds left in the first overtime.

But the Bulldogs (22-6) pulled away in the second overtime with an 8-2 run that ended the year for the host Wildcats.

Earle went up 51-48 in the final minute of regulation, forcing Harding Academy to foul.

It took five fouls just to reach the one-and-one bonus, but it paid off as Daquane Willford missed and Stevens pulled down the rebound for Harding Academy.

Lane Dailey made a basket to pull the Wildcats within one and hit two free throws with 3.5 seconds left to force the first overtime.

It was a complex strategy that forced the extra periods, and one that Wildcats coach Brad Francis could barely recall following the game, which lasted well over two hours.

“That’s so long ago, I don’t honestly remember,” Francis said. “I know that at some point, they missed some free throws that gave us a chance. We try to practice those situations.

“We were just going to try and push the ball up the floor. They fouled us, and Lane stepped up and hit two big free throws.”

The Wildcats looked to be in control with 4:05 left in the fourth quarter when senior guard Marshal Price converted a three-point play to give Harding Academy a 46-39 lead. But Autry Allen answered for the Bulldogs with back-to-back three-pointers to cut the lead to one with 3:31 remaining.

“They can score so quick,” Francis said. “We got up seven, all of a sudden, they hit two threes in a row and got back in it. The kids fought hard; we did the things we wanted to do. Credit them for hitting some big shots.

“Anytime you go two overtimes, you know it’s a battle.”

The loss marked the end of a long road for Stevens, Harding Academy’s senior 6-2 post player. Stevens, who has started for the Wildcats since his freshman year, finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds and fired up the Harding Academy student section when he dunked with 6:31 left in the first half to cut Earle’s lead to 16-15.

“We felt like he was just as quick and athletic as a lot of those guys,” Francis said. “We told him to take it right to the rim when he got a chance, and I thought he did that. Really, when they had their bigger guys in, it was a bigger advantage. When they had their smaller lineup in, they were quicker and tougher to defend.”

Will Francis led the Wildcats with 19 points while Seth Keese added 13. Dailey and Price each had nine.

Allen scored 24 points to lead Earle and had five steals while Dalvin Kimble scored 14 points and Willford had 13.

It was the last game for seniors Stevens, Price, Tyler Curtis and Keese, who is also the Wildcats’ all-state quarterback who led Harding Academy to the 3A state football championship, where it lost to Rivercrest.

Keese sat out basketball last year as he recovered from a knee injury he sustained in the 2009 state football semifinal against Fountain Lake.

Ironically, Rivercrest is advancing to the basketball championship after beating Harding Academy’s crosstown rival Riverview in the other 3A semifinal.

Rivercrest beat Riverview 67-52.

“It’s been a great four years,” Francis said. “I know that anytime your season ends and you don’t get that final win, it’s tough. Especially tough that last time around for some guys.

“To battle so hard and come up short there, it’s tough. But a great four-year run, and it’s been a joy to coach them.”