Conway’s boys and Vilonia’s girls both had strong second halves in state tournament play Wednesday.
Vilonia survived to play another day.
Conway had its season end at the wire.
The Wampus Cats rallied from 18 down to take a one-point lead in the last minute, but Van Buren scored four points in the final seconds to win, 52-49, in the first round of the 7A tournament at Fayetteville High School.
Vilonia, down by a point at the half, used a surge early in the third quarter to turn back Pulaski Academy, 48-41, in the first round of the 5A tournament at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
Van Buren’s Nick Pagel, who had three 3-pointers, led an outside shooting onslaught that stunned the Wampus Cats in the first half.
After leading 30-16 at intermission, the Pointers threatened to run away with it in taking a 34-16 lead early in the third quarter.
Then, the Cats got hot, picked up their intensity on defense, forced turnovers and went on a 15-0 run to make it a fight to the finish in the fourth quarter. Tim Boyd, Dominic Taylor and A.J. Burton all hit 3-pointers during the run while Justin Leon added a putback slam dunk, plus a lane basket.
A layup off a steal by Boyd and a rebound basket by Leon tied the score at 40 midway through the fourth quarter. The score was tied five times in the last four minutes.
One of two free throws by Leon gave the Cats a 49-48 lead under 30 seconds. The Pointers got the ball to Mitchell Smith, a 6-foot-8 freshman post, who hit a basket and a free throw to give Van Buren a 51-49 lead with 20 seconds left. The Cats were whistled for an illegal pick at 5.9. Ryan Pearson hit one of two free throws with 4.4 seconds left and Boyd missed a desperation shot at the buzzer.
Pagel led Van Buren with 26 points. Smith had 12. Boyd finished his Conway career with 19 points. Leon added 15.
The Wampus Cats ended their season at 16-11.
At Pine Bluff, the Lady Eagles’ McKenzie Gray hit four 3-pointers in helping her team break away from a youth-laden group of Lady Bruins.
Gray scored 18 points and stopped several potential PA runs with key baskets.
"This was nothing new; McKenzie is a high-percentage 3-point shooter," said Vilonia coach Alvin Riley. "She’s been here before. She knows what it takes to win."
Baskets by Gray and Audrey Moran helped Vilonia to an eight-point lead early in the third quarter. The Lady Eagles expanded that to 10 points early in the fourth quarter, After PA drew within 41-37 in the last minute, Gray, Moran, Ashlyn Hightower and Hannah Schnebelen helped the Lady Eagles pull away with free-throw shooting.
"We came out more aggressive the second half and got some turnovers with our pressure in the third quarter, which was a key to the game," said Riley, whose team began the game with a 9-0 run. "We got the game to a more comfortable level for us and just started playing good basketball again."
In addition to Moran’s 18 points, Hightower added 11 and Moran nine.
The Lady Eagles (24-3), and the second-lace team from 5A-West, will play Paragould, the champion of 5A East and who eliminated Vilonia from the state tournament last year, at 7 p.m. Thursday.
MARMADUKE — St. Joseph unsuccessfully battled fatigue and strong outside shooting by Bearden in a 75-62 loss to the Bears on Tuesday in the first round of the Class AA state tournament here.
The Bulldogs, who finished the season at 32-3, won the West Regional championship Monday, then traveled across the state from Magazine in west Arkansas to northeast Arkansas to play Bearden in less than 24 hours.
"We ran into a hot-shooting team from the outside and we couldn’t keep them off the boards when they did miss," said St. Joseph coach Brent Bruich. "We also had some turnovers that led to some easy baskets.
"I’m proud of the boys; they played their hearts out. We just had some really bad luck, playing in less than 24 hours after a regional championship. We had no time to prepare and no time to catch our breath and enjoy winning a championship."
Cole Schichtl led the Bulldogs with 28 points and three rebounds. Andrew Beck added 15 points and four assists. Landon Enderlin had five points and 12 assists. Drew Bates added five points Andrew Kordsmeier had three rebounds and four assists.
"I had the season ended this way," said Bruich. "These boys had a great year and they deserved better luck than this. But I’m proud of this team. They were a special and fun group."
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at email@example.com or at 501-505-1235. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us sports news at firstname.lastname@example.org)