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The Blackhawk boys have opened up a three-game lead in the loss column after second semester action has gotten underway. In a flurry of conference activity, the 'Hawks crushed West Fork 68-38, whipped Haas Hall 57-44, before besting Gravette 74-71 in a big road battle Saturday.

Gravette had the odd experience of absolutely blowing out Gentry 63-36 in a holiday tournament on Dec. 29, then coming home a week later to host the Pioneers in an important conference game. Gentry shocked the Lions with a 49-45 upset.

Gravette, once the conference pre-season favorite, assumed the mantle of dominating the Southwest Holiday Classic, a tournament the 'Hawks had owned for the past three years before moving on to participate in the Lake Hamilton Tournament this year. The Lions crushed Exeter, rolled over Cassville, before meeting Gentry in the final where they easily defeated their cross county rivals. Then they got beaten at home by those same Pioneers.

Shiloh looked to be a surprise contender when they upset Gravette 57-56, albeit at home. They lost to Pea Ridge in the last game of conference unbeatens, but they then dropped two games to lower echelon teams last week. They lost to Prairie Grove 64-61 before losing decisively to Elkins 71-63.

Tuesday, Jan. 9, Gravette ought to have beaten Haas Hall, and Shiloh should have won on the road at West Fork. The 'Hawks were playing at Prairie Grove Tuesday, Jan. 9, a place where the Tigers have turned in some upsets over the recent past, If the 'Hawks took care of business, it would have been the fourth conference loss for Prairie Grove, pretty much eliminating them for a chance to win the league in 2018.

Though not quite to the halfway point in the league schedule, we will all be there by Friday. The 'Hawks will be hosting Elkins Friday and a big conference battle looms at Gravette. Shiloh will be visiting the Lions and the hosts will be looking for payback after their upset loss to the privateers. I'm betting that the Lions will be alone in second place by Saturday.

The 'Hawks will travel to Gentry on Jan. 16 to face the Pioneers, who lost a very closely played game with Pea Ridge in December.

This is shaping up to be the kind of year where if you don't take any team seriously, that team might take you. The second place team in this year's league race is only a couple of games ahead of the the eighth best team as there seems to be a kind of parity existing among most teams.

The Blackhawk boys lost a ton of talent via graduation with the locals losing height and shooting experience. The 2018 edition of the hardwood 'Hawks has a lot in common with their predecessor, and then again, they don't.

Pea Ridge has become well known for their 3-point shooting prowess and most teams have worked on their perimeter defense to limit the chances the 'Hawks get from beyond the arc. The 'Hawks' most recent encounter with Gentry was an example of that game plan.

In the Pioneer game, the 'Hawks did not make a 3-pointer after the mid-point of the second period. Gentry seemed determined to not lose the game from downtown, and they didn't -- but they lost anyway.

This year's team has proven very proficient at attacking the basket. In the aforementioned Gentry game, the 'Hawks scored every one of their field goals inside the paint in the second half, mostly via the layup.

Any team stacking the perimeter against the 'Hawks had best be prepared for a flood of layups. The problem with extending defenses to prevent the long ball is that it opens up the middle for layups and inside scoring.

This year -- 2018 -- is a markedly different year from seasons past. For the past three years, the 'Hawks and Huntsville have been the two juggernauts facing off for district supremacy. This season, the Eagles have not been shown to be the Eagles of old.

Huntsville started the season 3-0 with impressive wins over Siloam Springs, Prairie Grove and Gentry but they have lost most of their games since. Their most significant loss was to rival Berryville 55-29 on Dec. 30. It was in the Berryville Tournament and the Eagles still have two more games with the Bobcats before the district playoffs. Huntsville plays in a blended conference with all 3A teams with the lone exception of Berryville.

On the girls side of things, it looks like Gravette is the team to beat in 2018 as far as conference play is concerned. Having said that, they were upset by Gentry 53-46 Tuesday, Jan. 2, in conference play leading to their being tied for the league lead at present. The two teams will play again on Feb. 2 in Gentry.

Gentry lost a 44-42 battle to Elkins a month ago for their lone league loss. Gentry whipped Shiloh going away a month back, but then turned around and lost to the privateers in recent tournament action.

With the west county teams leading the way so far in '18, I am surprised by the state of things with former league behemoths Prairie Grove and Huntsville. For years and years, these two teams would be annually at the top of the state rankings and were constant contenders to be playing in Hot Springs in the finals.

Today they are second tier teams and don't seem to have the athletes they once had in great abundance.

The take away?

This is high school athletics. You never really know what you get from year to year. Athletes come and athletes go, and while well run programs tend to win most of their games, you can never count on it.

The Pea Ridge mantra for the recent past is "Good to Great." Striving to always be good even if perhaps great eludes you is a good life lesson.

The Blackhawk boys look well positioned to make a serious run in the post season, and while the girls haven't had the success the boys have had this season so far, the ladies have shown the ability and drive to compete. Especially in sports like basketball, you are never out until that final loss.

Boys 4A-3A-1 Conference

1.^Pea Ridge^7-0

2.^Shiloh^5-3

3.^Prairie Grove^5-3

4.^Gravette^4-3

5.^Gentry^3-5

6.^Haas Hall^3-5

7.^Elkins ^-5

8.^Greenland^3-5

9. Lincoln^0-7

10.^West Fork^0-8

MaxPreps boys 4A-1 District poll

1.^Pea Ridge^11-3

2.^Gravette^9-5

3.^Berryville^12-5

4.^Shiloh^7-5

5.^Huntsville^9-7

6.^Prairie Grove^6-8

7.^Lincoln^7-9

8.^Gentry^6-8

Boys 4A state poll

as of Jan. 5, 2018

1.^Pottsville^13-2

2.^Baptist Prep^13-4

3.^Stuttgart^12-1

4.^Ozark^12-1

5.^Southside^11-4

6.^Westside^8-4

7.^Brookland^2-5

8.^ESTEM^14-7

9.^Pea Ridge^11-3

10.^Gravette^11-2

11.^Bauxite^9-5

12.^Nashville^7-0

13.^Berryville^12-5

14.^West Helena^8-1

15.^Riverview^12-4

16.^Malvern^10-3

17.^Warren^8-4

18.^Subiaco^8-5

19.^Dover^10-3

20.^Fountain Lake^9-6

Girls 4A-3A-1 Conference

1.^Gravette^7-1

2.^Gentry^7-1

3.^Elkins^5-2

4.^Lincoln^4-4

5.^West Fork^4-4

6.^Prairie Grove^4-4

7.^Shiloh^4-5

8.^Pea Ridge^2-5

9.^Greenland^2-6

10.^Haas Hall^0-8

Girls 4A-1 District poll

1.^Berryville^16-1

2.^Gravette^11-3

3.^Lincoln^9-7

4.^Huntsville^9-10

5.^Shiloh^8-6

6.^Prairie Grove^7-8

7.^Gentry^8-7

8.^Pea Ridge^4-10

MaxPreps 4A State poll

1.^Central Arkansas^16-1

2.^Ozark^13-0

3.^Berryville^16-1

4.^Pottsville^13-3

5.^ESTEM^11-2

6.^Gravette^11-3

7.^Southside^10-5

8.^Brookland^9-4

9.^Riverview^13-4

10.^Lonoke^14-5

11.^Monticello^13-3

12.^Pocahontas^10-6

13.^Star City^11-5

14.^Highland^11-5

15.^Warren^12-3

16.^Heber Springs^8-5

17.^Dardanelle^9-5

18.^Dumas^12-2

19.^West Helena^7-2

20.^Bauxite^9-5

•••

Editor's note: John McGee is an award-winning columnist and sports writer. He is the art teacher at Pea Ridge elementary schools, coaches elementary track and writes a regular sports column for The Times. The opinions expressed are those of the author. He can be contacted through The Times at prtnews@nwadg.com.

Sports on 01/10/2018

Print Headline: Blackhawks open up lead in conference race

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