Tuesday, March 04, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers, Devils set for tourney

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville and Beebe boys’ and girls’ basketball teams begin play this week in the class 5A state basketball tournament at Alma High School. Because of the bad winter weather on Sunday and subsequent and persistent sub-freezing temperatures, the entire tournament begins Thursday instead of the regularly-scheduled Tuesday start.

That means Beebe’s tournament opener against Clarksville will be at 2:30 Thursday.

The Panthers are the 5A-West outright champions and No. 1 seed. They won the class 4A state championship three years in a row before moving up to 5A last season and getting bounced from the playoffs in the semifinals by eventual champion Jacksonville.

The Badgers enter the tournament having won two of their last three games, while Clarksville comes in on a three-game winning streak after being upset 57-51 by Vilonia in week 10 of league play.

The Vilonia Eagles are the only common opponent between Beebe and Clarksville. The Panthers beat Vilonia 70-66 in week four of league play, while Beebe won at Vilonia in the second game of the season, 44-39. Vilonia was a different team at the end of the season than they were at the beginning. The Eagles also beat 5A-West third-place finisher Harrison the second time through the league, and lost to playoff qualifiers Morrilton and Alma by just two points each on their home floors.

The winner of that game will get the winner between Pulaski Academy and Camden-Fairview at 8:30 p.m. Friday.

The Jacksonville teams take the stage at Charles B. Dyer Arena on Thursday with the boys playing Hope at 2:30 p.m. The Bobcats finished fourth in the 5A-South behind champion Hot Springs and second-place Watson Chapel, and third-place Camden-Fairview.

Hope was on the verge of elimination from playoff contention when it pulled off a big upset of then first-place Watson Chapel in week 12 of conference play. They finished 7-7 in the South and tied with Hot Springs Lakeside. Those two teams split, but Hope won the tiebreaker because of its 12-point win and one-point loss.

The Red Devils enter the playoffs on a one-game winning streak. They lost at Pulaski Academy in the next-to-last game of the season to break a 17-game winning streak, and finished the year with a tough 61-58 win over Sylvan Hills.

That 17-game winning included an 80-65 victory over South champion Hot Springs on Dec. 21 in Jacksonville. The South has not fared well against the Central all season. Hot Springs also lost 63-50 to North Pulaski in the Conway tournament, and second-place Watson Chapel fell 64-52 to Sylvan Hills in Sherwood. Neither NP nor Sylvan Hills made the playoffs in the Central.

The winner between Jacksonville and Hope will play the winner between East three seed Greene County Tech and West two seed Morrilton at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Lady Red Devils finish up girls’ action on Thursday with a game against South two seed White Hall. The Jacksonville girls are one of three teams in the Central that was capable of winning the league, while White Hall was merely the best of the rest in the Hot Springs dominated South Conference. The two teams have no common opponents.

The winner plays the winner between Paragould and Alma at 11 a.m. Saturday.

The Beebe Lady Badgers take the court at 1 p.m. Friday against the West three seed Harrison.

The Lady Goblins claim the only conference win of the year against West champion Vilonia, a 40-32 victory in the league opener on Jan. 10. Since then Vilonia has reeled off 13-straight wins while Harrison has gone 8-5.

The Harrison girls played themselves into third place with an upset of second-place Huntsville in week 13 of league play, but closed the year with a stunning 65-51 loss to sixth-place Morrilton.

Beebe also enters the tournament off a loss, but it was a two-point loss to conference champion and defending state runner-up Paragould. The winner of that game almost certainly will face Hot Springs, who plays Camden-Fairview in the first round.