The second season of basketball is upon us with the districts in the rear-view mirror while the regionals loom ahead.
The Blackhawk boys just finished playing in their home district tournament, the 4A-1, in a gym they hadn't seen all year with the AAA's convoluted blended district plan for the current cycle. Even wierder, the 'Hawks will now play in a regional hosted by the 4A-4 District. The host is West Fork, who played in the 'Hawks' blended conference schedule this year. The other 4A-4 teams of their district have yet to play in the West Fork gym this year, so their district getting to host this year is really of no benefit to them.
The regional matches are all set with the Blackhawks set to open tournament play against the West Fork Tigers. With the way the brackets are set up, it is entirely possible that the 'Hawks may not even play another team from the 4A-4 except for West Fork, who played the 'Hawks twice this year in conference play. The 'Hawks whipped the Tigers 61-27 at home then beat them 68-45 at West Fork in January. The Tigers upset Ozark in the first round of the 4A-4 district but then fell 59-47 to Subiaco in the semi-finals and lost 54-53 for third place against Dardanelle. West Fork is 17-12 and ranked 28th in state polls.
The 'Hawks would play the Subiaco/Shiloh winner. Shiloh upset Gravette in the third place playoff game. Though Gravette handled Shiloh confortably twice during the season, they had an off day following their loss to Pea Ridge the night before. That is twice the Lions have had an off game following a loss to Pea Ridge this year resulting in another loss. Subiaco is 15-11 with 21st ranking in the state. Shiloh is 16-11 and is ranked 23rd but has been coming on of late.
In the other bracket, Gravette will take 4A-4 champion Pottsville. The Apaches are ranked fourth in the state polls with a 24-4 record. Gravette dropped to 21-8 with the double loss and is ranked 10th in the state. The winner of that game will take on the survivor of the Huntsville/Dardandelle game. Huntsville has the sixth place ranking overall with a 26-3 mark with Dardanelle having the 17th state ranking with a won-loss record of 19-9. I would not be surprised to see Gravette regroup and surprise the favored Pottsville team.
Semi-final action is set for Friday evening with the championship round to be concluded Saturday night. If Pea Ridge wins Wednesday night, they will play 5:30 p.m. Friday with the championship game set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
The added value of a championship trophy is that it will put the winner into the final eight of the 2017 state playoffs. Each regional winner has a first round bye with the state tournament set to be hosted by Nashville High School next week. Region winners will have one less day on the road, no small thing.
The field for the state tournament hopefuls has been cut from 49 to 24 after district competition. This week's regional will pare the field down to just 12 for the journey to Nashville.
The field will be without the MaxPreps No. 2 ranked team, the Southside Southerners. The 24-3 Southside squad had the misfortune to be the first victim of the AAA's rules changes this season. Up until this season, the top two teams in each district had an automatic bye into the regional tournament no matter how the district tournament came out. This year, all eight teams in each district played the first round with all losers having their season come to a sudden end. Southside's conference title this year meant nothing to playoff consideration, breaking a longtime held Arkansas tradition.
Southside came to be a victim of Little Rock's ESTEM rule violations. The 12th-ranked team in the state, the ESTEM Mets had to forfeit a bunch of games which placed them seventh in their district after the penalties. This put them in a first round game with Southside and the Southerners lost. Ordinarily, Southside would have had a much easier first round matchup and would probably be playing this week.
Besides the 4A-1 and 4A-4 district winners in Pea Ridge and Pottsville, there were four other district champions in the state among all 4A schools. Nashville (23-3) won the 4A-7 with a 61-51 win over Little Rock Robinson (16-10) with Warren (19-11) winning the 4A-8 by beating Monticello (20-7) 48-43.
Defending state champion Baptist Prep (25-4) won the 4A-2 district by clobbering West Helena (7-17) 51-25 and Cave City (27-2) captured the 4A-3 with a 62-57 win over Jonesboro Westside (21-7).
The North Region boasts four of the MaxPreps top 10 ranked teams with the East Region having the same number of top tenners. In the South Region, only two teams are ranked in the top 10, Nashville and Bauxite, with the 4A-8 having no teams ranked that amongst the best. The best 4A-8 team, Warren, is ranked in the 25th spot.
Lady Blackhawks made region round, take on West Fork
The Lady 'Hawks very nearly upset the No. 1 seed Huntsville Eagles in the semi-finals but faded late to drop into the third place playoff where they lost a similar last quarter game against nemesis Gravette.
They opened play with a big win over Gentry to qualify for region play and then carried a 1-point lead into the fourth period in their semifinal. The semifinal opponent was Huntsville who came from behind to deny the Lady 'Hawks. The next evening in the third place playoff, the Lady 'Hawks held a 40-39 lead over Gravette's Lions but again faded at the end to lose by 3, 52-49.
Pea Ridge will now travel to play top-seeded Ozark, who whipped West Fork and then Pottsville in their district semi-finals and finals. The Lady Hillbillies (21-2) are ranked No. 6 in the state polls. The winner of the Pea Ridge game will play the survivor of the Huntsville/West Fork matchup.
The final game in the first round will feature the seventh-ranked Eagles (19-9) against the eighth-ranked Tigers (24-2), the toughest first round game in the state.
By comparison, the regionals first contest will have the state's 11th-ranked team in Berryville (18-12) matchup with the state's 23rd-ranked team in Dardanelle (13-16)
After the Berryville/Dardanelle will be other first round draw with ninth-ranked Pottsville (16-10) hoping to get by the 13th-ranked Gravette squad (20-10)
The girls' North region will have five of the state's highest 11 ranked teams in the competition. With the likely exception of the Dardanelle Sand Lizards, the other seven teams have the potential of winning the championship.
Pea Ridge will have to get by the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-ranked teams to get into the championship round, probably the toughest route to travel of any team in the state. The Lady 'Hawks have shown the talent and the drive to do just that, so perhaps the season will extend into next week.
The Razorback men's basketball team seems to be peaking at the right time and the men's baseball team set records over the weekend.
The cage Razorbacks seemed to be out of the running for the playoffs until a late surge has brightened their chances. A game with ranked Texas A&M this week could be the win that sets them up.
The baseball boys broke their 13-game losing streak of last season by sweeping the opening three-game set with Miami University (Ohio). They outscored their foes 25-2 and set a new attendance record for the opening series, drawing nearly 30,000 fans that were attracted by gorgeous weather and reports of a much improved Hog team.
On the track, Clive Pullen triple jumped 56 feet to lead the world in the triple jump with LadyBack sophomore twins Lexi and Tori Weeks leading the nation in the pole vault. Both are near 15 feet.
Editor's note: John McGee, an award-winning columnist, sports writer and art teacher at Pea Ridge elementary schools, writes a regular sports column for The Times. The opinions expressed are those of the author. He can be contacted through The Times at email@example.com.Sports on 02/22/2017
Print Headline: Playoffs begin in earnest; ' Hawks to play in regionals