The Conway Wampus Cats had plenty of reasons to pose for the camera immediately after their pregame introductions.
The Cats ended their regular season with an overall mark of 24-2, but most importantly, they finished with an undefeated record in the 7A-Central Conference at 14-0 after a 59-55 victory over Little Rock Catholic.
"It’s tough whenever you play Catholic," Conway coach James Bates said. "There were a lot of things going on and the guys were able to keep their focus. The kids just gutted it out, and our seniors did a nice job of stepping up. Now, we have to wipe our slate clean and do what we set out to do — win a state championship."
Conway’s senior duo Preston Purifoy and Kenyon McNeaill answered the bell every time the Rockets made a charge. Purifoy led all scorers with 21 points and McNeaill finished with 16. Conway’s Micah Delph also hit a clutch 3-pointer to put the Cats ahead at 53-49 with 1:49 left. When Catholic cut the lead down to three at 56-53 with 30.7 second left, Delph responded by knocking down two from the foul line. He ended up with nine points.
"We knew Catholic was going to come in here and play us tough because they were still fighting for a No. 3 seed," Purifoy said. "We just did what we had to do to win. We knew this was going to be our last game here so we wanted to protect home court."
The Cats will return to action at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the first round of the Class 7A state tournament at Van Buren.
The Conway Lady Cats ended the regular season on a high note after their 58-52 victory over Mount St. Mary.
The Lady Cats (18-8, 10-4) needed a theatrical finish in regulation to force overtime before coming away with their second straight conference win.
After Mount St. Mary’s Kalleigh Taylor missed the second end of her free throw attempts with the Belles leading 46-44 in regulation, Conway’s Taylor Gault grabbed the rebound and raced the length of the court to score a layup, while splitting a double-team attempt with 4.4 seconds left.
It was all in the Lady Cats’ favor during the overtime period.
One of Conway’s handful of seniors, Tamara Heard, scored the first points in the overtime period after recording a layup on an assist from Gault. Then, Gault came away with a steal at the top of the key and took it in for an uncontested layup. Gault led the way with a game-high 26 points, and Heard added another 14 in the scoring category.
"Today coach Taylor really harped on us to do the best that we can do and we did," Gault said. "We had a hard week of preparation for this game. We were pushing each other in practice.
"On that last play before we went into overtime, coach Taylor just told us what to do. We just have to always believe that no matter how much time is left or how much we’re down by — we always have a chance to win."
Taylor started five of her seniors in honor of Senior Night — Krista Robertson, Jasmyn Wilkins, Lauren McNeaill, Meghan Lewis and Heard. Each player who started and came off the bench contributed in the Lady Cats; season finale before heading to the 7A state tournament.
"Any win is pleasing," Taylor said. "We came out a little lethargic. We had a lot of distractions today with it being Senior Night. I’m proud of the girls for hanging in there and they did what they needed to do to make it happen."