Tuesday, March 07, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Strong runs from local basketball teams

By RAY BENTON Leader sports editor

No local teams will be playing in high school basketball’s state championship weekend in Hot Springs this week, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some stellar accomplishments.

The two Leader coverage area teams that made it the farthest, needing just one more win to get in their respective title games, had to beat a lot of odds just to get that far.

Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter and Sylvan Hills boys each played in the semifinals of their state tournaments, and both were long shots to even get there.

The Lighthouse Wolves were particularly special in light of the fact this is JLC’s very first year as a recognized sports program by the Arkansas High School Actitivies Association.

The Wolves went 27-7 before losing to state powerhouse Earle 82-62 in Saturday’s semifinals in Quitman. With four seniors among the top eight players, JLC coach Kelvin Parker couldn’t be more proud of the leadership of those players.

“It’s our first year to even be eligible to play in a state tournament,” said Parker. “These guys have never been on a big stage like this. They wanted to win it all, but these seniors did a great job of leading this team – not being overwhelmed by the moment. They’re good young men.”

The Sylvan Hills boys carried a four seed into the Class 5A state tournament in Magnolia after finishing fourth in the 5A-Central district tournament. Bear coach Kevin Davis has said all year that the 5A-Central is the best league to be in for preparation for state.

“Night in and night out you’re playing against some of the top teams, some of the best coaches and a bunch of Division I ball players,” Davis said at the beginning of the season.

In the past two years, the Bears have failed to make the state tournament from the Central Conference, despite having wins over several qualifiers from other leagues, including league champions.

Sylvan Hills went into this year’s first-round game against 5A-South champion Hope supremely confident, and dominated the second half to win 66-49.

When Morrilton beat Blytheville in the first round, the Bears knew they had a good shot at making the semifinals. They had beaten Morrilton 63-57 early in the season, and they did it again, 52-43, on Friday afternoon in Magnolia.

That set up a semifinal rematch with Parkview, who had scarcely broken a sweat in its first two tournament games. The Patriots, with their three Division I players, including two future Razorbacks, were again too much for Sylvan Hills, winning 74-51.

It was the third time Parkview had beat Sylvan Hills this season. The semifinals included three teams from the 5A-Central, and the finals will be a rematch of the 5A-Central district championship game between Parkview and Mills, which Parkview won 57-55 a week earlier in Maumelle.


The most touching moment of the tournament was in the postgame press conference after Cabot’s bid to repeat as 7A boys champion fell short in the quarterfinals. An emotional Jerry Bridges apologized for “being so down,” and repeated “God’s been too good to me for me to be like this.”

But Bridges was emotional over the seniors that have helped him build the CHS program. Point guard Bobby Joe Duncan has been a three-year starter. Jarrod Barnes and Logan Gilbertson have been key players since their sophomore seasons, and have started the last two. Matt Stanley transferred in his junior year, and added a dimension to the team it would not have won a state title last year without. Parker Childress didn’t play as much as the others, but also drew praise from Bridges.

“He’s a heck of a young man and a team player. Teams need guys like him out there to see what dedication looks like.

“I love my seniors,” Bridges said. “They made me look good. I got back in this (to coaching) hoping for a chance for another state title, and people thought I was crazy coming to Cabot. But these guys made me look good.”


All four of the local girls’ teams lost in the first round of their respective tournaments, but a closer look at a couple of those teams is reason to be optimitic for next season. Two teams, Lonoke and Sylvan Hills, had no seniors in their starting lineups, and both showed signs they can be teams to reckon with next year, especially Lonoke.

The Lady Jackrabbits’ last two losses were to the two teams that are playing later this week in the Class 4A state championship game, and both losses were down to the wire.

The odds on favorite to win the girls championship was CAC, who boasts one of the top recruits in the nation in Christyn Williams. She was injured in regionals and CAC lost three straight after that. But while she was playing, Lonoke took them to overtime twice before losing each time.

Look for the Lady Jackrabbits to be in serious contention next season.