Wednesday, November 13, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Bears believe Bobcats are ripe

Leader sportswriter

It could be one of the closer No. 1 - No. 4 matchups in the first round of the 5A state playoffs this week as Sylvan Hills prepares for a long road trip to Hope to face the 5A South champion Bobcats on Friday.

The Bears (7-3) earned the No. 4 seed out of the 5A Central when conference points lifted Mills University Studies, a team Sylvan Hills defeated face to face, up to the No. 3 seed. The 8-2 Bobcats earned their top seeding with a 17-12 upset win over defending state champion Camden Fairview in week eight.

Hope’s two losses this year came at the hands of Ashdown in a 42-35 non-conference defeat in week two, and its only league loss to Watson Chapel, 17-19, in week six. The only common opponent between the Bears and Bobcats this year has been Hot Springs Lakeside, with Hope downing the Rams in a close 23-21 decision in week seven, while the Bears handed them a 45-41 loss in week two.

“I don’t view it as a typical 1-4 seed,” Bears coach Jim Withrow said. “I don’t view us as the fourth-best team in this league by any stretch of the imagination. I think we got to a point where we could have scored more points and helped ourselves out, and we didn’t do it. You have to play these guys at some point, so why not in the first round? That’s not a big deal to us.”

Hope and Sylvan Hills have similar offensive philosophies, using a spread formation with a run-first tactic, and both teams like to use the tunnel screen pass to create mismatches upfield.

The last two weeks of the 5A Central schedule were vastly different for Sylvan Hills. The Bears had to face dominating Pulaski Academy in week nine, and gave the Bruins a run for their money most of the way before eventually falling 49-25. They concluded the regular season against nearby rival North Pulaski, a team that has not won since the opening week of the 2012 season. The Bears prevailed 48-19 as expected, and had the opportunity to improve on their passing game, an area that held them back against PA.

“I thought our defense made some plays,” Withrow said of the victory over NP. “I think Chris Daily had another interception, that makes three or four games in a row. Offensively, we threw the ball better. Nathan Thomas had a touchdown catch, and Tra Doss, I think he ran for two scores, and I think Marlon Clemmons may have gotten the other two. I don’t think we played great. I think we did what we wanted to do, get out of there fast and work on a few things.”

With many of the Bears’ premier players coming out of the junior class this season, next year appears to be an opportunity for Sylvan Hills to have a banner season, but for Withrow, none of the upswing his team has enjoyed over the past two seasons could have been possible without this year’s seniors.

“I think the one thing you have to talk about is that we’re not promised tomorrow,” Withrow said. “You’re only promised today, today is now the time. We will be more advanced next year just because we’ll have guys who are three-year starters coming in.

“It’s tough to say we’re looking at next year when we have these seniors right now. Daniel Molden, Garrett Barham, Kylan Wade and all those guys, they’ve been fantastic. Definitely, we want to do everything we can for those guys and take it as far as we can take it.”