Conway Christian coach Ashley Nance became a prophet in January.
After St. Joseph defeated the Lady Eagles on Jan. 25, Nance said, "I told the girls that if we do our job and St. Joseph does its part, then it’s possible we’ll see them five times this year."
That will happen Thursday in the best setting and situation possible — the 2A girls state championship game at Summit Arena in Hot Springs with the season series tied at 2-2. The two Conway teams, whose rivalry has grown in intensity this season, will open state finals weekend with a 3:30 p.m. contest.
Both teams head to the showdown under a full head of steam, each winning three games in the early rounds of the state tournament at Carlisle. They got to the showdown with games of almost bookend scores. The Lady Bulldogs (30-3) took apart a highly regarded Norphlet team, 47-29, in one semifinal. A couple of hours later, Conway Christian (27-5) had an equally dominating performance against a 35-1 Wickes team, ranked No. 1 in the state in some polls, 50-28.
"We really hadn’t been playing that well going into the tournament, and I told our team it was time to peak and we played probably the best we can play," Nance said.
"We had good spacing, good ball movement and executed well throughout the tournament," said Chris Kordsmeier, St. Joseph’s veteran coach whose girls were runner-ups in the state last season.
The Lady Bulldogs lost to Danville in the title game.
The two teams have alternated victories with the last three games not decided until the final quarter, the last in the final three seconds.
The Lady Eagles began at home by handing the Lady Bulldogs one of their worst conference defeats in several years, 73-43. On the Lady Bulldogs’ home court at the St. Joseph Family Activity Center, St. Joseph won 49-38.
The Lady Eagles won the district title with a 50-39 victory, then St. Joseph came back to take the regional title, 54-52, in the best game of the bunch. It was decided by a shot by St. Joseph’s Brooke Enderlin with 3.1 seconds left.
"We won’t need a scouting report," Nance said. "They know us and what we do and we know them and what they do."
"Both teams are good teams, and it’ll come down to execution and defense," Kordsmeier said. "Tempo and pace will also be a big factor. Each of us likes to play at a different tempo. We both have to take care of the ball. Right now, our girls are playing very well together.
"I think it’s appropriate we’ll get to settle things with the state championship game."
"For our school, it’s a great achievement to reach the state championship game in our second year in AAA," said Nance, who two years ago was coaching alongside her father, John Hutchcraft, for Guy-Perkins in the A girls state title game.
It’s the second straight season that two Faulkner County teams have played each other for a state championship. Last year, Guy-Perkins boys downed Mount Vernon-Enola for the Class A boys title.
Fans of both schools packed the Carlisle gymnasium last week — each watching each other’s games — hoping for a final showdown.
"It’s a great thing for Conway to have two teams played each other," said Randy Sims, one of CCS’ biggest supporters. "It’s also great that this one decides the season series. It means a title and bragging rights."