JESSIEVILLE -- The Buffalo Island Mustangs posted a "miracle win" here in the state Class AA basketball tournament before falling in the quarterfinals to one of the strongest teams in Arkansas.
The Mustangs reached the "Final Eight" on the wings of a three-point buzzer shot by Brandon Ballard in a first-round game against Gurdon.
That propelled BIC to a Friday match against a big and strong Charleston team, which proved to be too much for the young Mustangs.
BIC ended the season at 18-16, concluding a dramatic run that saw the Mustangs capture both the district and regional tournaments after ending the regular season at 13-15.
"I thought they were much more physical than we were," BIC coach Bill Taylor said of Charleston.
"Their experience showed, as well as their physical strength."
"I am just really proud that we advanced to the Final Eight," the coach added. "It's been a nice run. Two weeks ago, we were just an ordinary basketball team...at this point, I am really excited about the future of our basketball team."
Against Charleston, the Mustangs got off on the right track as Ballard nailed a three-pointer.
But the talented Tigers went on a 12-1 run to make it 12-4 late in the first frame.
Many of the Tigers' points came on relatively-easy shots inside following penetration or offensive rebounds.
Ballard and Mark Hawkins hit additional treys for the Mustangs in the quarter, but the Tigers still managed a 17-10 lead at the end of the frame.
Charleston rolled off the first six points of the second period to make it 24-10 and the teams essentially traded baskets the rest of the half. The Tigers were on top 34-22 at intermission, but Taylor still felt his team was in the game.
That kind of changed at the start of the second half as Charleston took command with a 12-0 run to make it 46-22.
Josh Verkamp, an inside threat all night, scored six of the points in that run.
The Mustangs continued a three-point barrage the rest of the game, ending with a total of 11 in the contest, but it wasn't enough as the Tigers advanced to the semifinals with a 74-51 win.
BIC hit 11 of 33 three-point attempts in the game. Hawkins had five, Josh Shepard four and Ballard two.
"The 11 of 33 is at the minimum of what's allowable," Taylor said.
"I told an assistant before the game that we would need to make 15 to win," the coach said.
"We played better at times in the second half, but their run at the start of the half was tough. I thought that we finished the game up right."
"I will say this -- our defense was really bad in the first half and that hurt. But I don't think they are that much better than us."
Hawkins led the Mustangs with 17 points. Joining him in double figures were Ballard and Shepard with 12 each. Also scoring were Cal Rose 4, Erick Lyerly 4 and Justin Hawkins 2.
Verkamp scorched the nets for 34 for Charleston. Caleb Rainwater joined him in double figures with 16.
Charleston had a big rebounding edge, 35-20.
The Tigers shot 54 percent from the field, compared to 41 percent for BIC.
Charleston hit 19 of 26 free throws while BIC went only 2-3 at the line.
"This was the fourth straight year that Charleston has been in the state tournament," Taylor said. "I would say their program is where we want to be. We've got some work to do."
The Mustangs reached the quarterfinals with a thrilling 72-71 victory on Wednesday over Gurdon.
The Mustangs appeared to be in dire shape when Gurdon's Norris Glenn hit a pair of free throws with 28.1 seconds left to put his team up 70-66.
But seconds later Mark Hawkins nailed a dramatic three-pointer to close it to 70-69.
Glenn then was fouled again with 13.7 seconds showing. This time he made one of two.
BIC came down the court and threw the ball away, making it seem more likely than ever that the game was over.
But the Mustangs fouled Glenn again with 6.1 seconds left and this time he missed them both.
BIC quickly brought the ball downcourt and Ryan Wallace fed it to Ballard as the clock was ticking down.
Ballard let loose with a three-pointer and the buzzer went off while the ball was in the air -- nothing but net.
That started a wild celebration for the Mustangs and put them into the matchup with Charleston.
"That first game is what you call a program builder," Taylor said. "It was a great win for our school.
"We'll be remembering that game and the way it ended 20 or 30 years from now."
Taylor said it was a typical first round game, with the kids "jittery" on both sides.
He said his team made a lot of mistakes in the game, didn't shoot well, but still found a way to win.
BIC got off to a very poor start in the game, trailing 19-13 after one period and 28-15 late in the first half.
At that point the Mustangs caught fire and outscored the Go Devils 14-2 the rest of the way before intermission.
Hawkins had eight points in that critical run.
Taylor said Hawkins had an outstanding tournament.
"Mark Hawkins is as good a shooter as there is in this tournament," the coach said.
He had 11 three-pointers in the two games.
"Looking ahead, we want him to be more versatile in his game to go along with his great shooting," Taylor added.
He also praised the play of Lyerly in the first game. The senior center had two impressive dunks to go with his 21 points and eight rebounds.
BIC quickly took the lead early in the third quarter on treys by Hawkins and Rose and appeared to be gaining control of the game.
But Gurdon hung in and finally went ahead midway through the final frame.
The Go Devils built the lead to six points with just over a minute to play before BIC won it down the stretch on four critical free throws by Rose and the two three-pointers by Hawkins and Ballard.
Hawkins with 22 and Ballard with 15 joined Lyerly in double figures. Also scoring were Shepard 8 and Rose 6.
Russel Hatley led Gurdon with 20 points. Dorsey Kelly had 13 and Eddie Fort added 12.
BIC won the game despite shooting only 33 percent from the field compared to 47 percent for Gurdon.
The Mustangs hit 20 of 21 free throws and Gurdon went only 9-17.
BIC loses five seniors from this team -- Lyerly, Wallace, Blake Hawkins, Justin Hawkins and Zach Whited.
"We are going to miss them and their contributions to the program," Taylor said.
The Mustangs will return a solid group next year -- the starting lineup in the state tournament featured two freshmen, a sophomore, a junior and a senior.
Following the win over BIC, Charleston lost a close game Saturday to Hector.
Hector will test undefeated Poyen in the state championship game at 5:15 p.m. Friday at Pine Bluff.