Friday, March 23, 2012

SPORTS >> A thrilling basketball season this year

Leader sportswriter

Now that spring is in full swing and everyone is off to the baseball and soccer fields, it’s a good time to reflect on a basketball season that was nothing short of thrilling in our neck of the woods.

Locally, we had two state champions and seven teams qualify for state tournaments from their respective classifications in our coverage area, and a few we thought would make it but didn’t.

The Carlisle Lady Bison went through the first half of their 2011-12 schedule as a team struggling to stay above .500 until the final month of the regular season, when the Jonathan Buffalo-led group ran the table in the second cycle of 2A-6 Conference games to win the league title, only to lose a heartbreaker to Conway St. Joseph in the first round of the East Regional.

And here’s something we haven’t been able to say in a decade or so, how about those Jacksonville Lady Red Devils? Head coach Katrina Mimms has paid her dues and then some, and finally got to taste the sweet thrill of postseason success all the way to the semifinal round of the 6A state tournament. Congratulations, coach Mimms!

Almost as big a turnaround was the Beebe Lady Badgers, who reached the quarterfinals of the 5A state tournament this year after two miserable seasons the last two years. New coach Greg Richey lit a fire under those girls, and gave the hometown fans a reason to show up at Badger Sports Arena before 7:30 p.m. this year.

But this season belonged to Carla Crowder, Charles Ruple and the Cabot Lady Panthers on the girls’ side of things. The Lady Panthers took home the first-ever basketball state title in school history, and University of Arkansas signee Melissa Wolff earned the MVP title to cap off a splendid season. Wolff is a great player and even better kid, and we wish her and her Lady Panther teammates all the best in their future endeavors.

Basketball officials get lambasted more than anyone, so we will give credit to the refs who called the Lady Panthers’ games in the state tournament and state finals. There was no apparent favoritism toward Elliot Taylor, daughter of Arkansas Activities Association executive director Lance Taylor. In fact, the junior guard came dangerously close to fouling out during the semifinals victory over Little Rock Hall, proving there was no sort of protection going on like we have seen at certain times in the past. (Remember Whitney Zachariason?)

The strangest twist of fate this season came at the expense of Jacksonville Red Devils coach Victor Joyner, who had to watch a 6A state finals game featuring two teams he went 4-0 against during the regular season. The Devils uncharacteristically fell apart in their semifinals matchup against Jonesboro, a team they torched by 30 points just a month prior. But much of the premier talent from that team will return in November, and it is quite likely Jacksonville will be a big factor again next year.

The Beebe Badgers also made it to the semifinal round of the 5A tournament under second-year coach Ryan Marshall, who takes the award for most animated coach. Marshall has brought an intensity and work ethic to the Badger basketball program that rivals that of football coach John Shannon, one of our favorite coaches in the area.

But not to digress, we will give the overachievers award to Jerry Bridges and the Cabot Panthers, who made it into a competitive 7A state tournament field with a team that had limited size, but plenty of heart. Bridges’ industrious group of seniors had no standout player, but proved that teamwork and resilience can lead to success, even when outmatched on most nights.

On a side note, although they are no longer in our coverage area, we would like to congratulate coach Brad Francis and the Harding Academy Wildcats on an outstanding season and semifinals appearance in the 3A state tournament. The Wildcats made the quarterfinals last year before losing to Earle, the same team to send them home this season.

Are we forgetting anyone?

Oh yeah, the Sylvan Hills Bears, led by longtime coach Kevin Davis and some kid named Archie.

That’s Archie Goodwin, for those of you living under a rock the past three years. Goodwin earned MVP in the 5A title game as the Bears defeated Mills University Studies for a third time this season.

The rebuilding job ahead of Davis will be a big one with the top seven in his rotation graduating in less than two months, but the legacy left by Goodwin, Devin Pearson, Trey Smith, Dion Patton, Larry Ziegler, Jacob Gates and Daylon Jones will be talked about for years to come.

It will be hard to top a season like the one we just experienced, but we look forward to the 2012-13 season just the same. Also, we would like to express appreciation to Cabot athletic director Steve Roberts and the Cabot staff for putting on an outstanding 7A state tournament this year. The new Panther Arena provided a great atmosphere for high-school tournament basketball, and the hospitality was second to none.