Riverside's Rebels have accomplished many things since Lake City and Caraway consolidated in the mid 1980's -- a state runnerup finish, regional championships, district championships, conference titles, undefeated conference seasons, and numerous other tournament titles. The one championship that has eluded them has been the Northeast Arkansas Invitational Tournament title. Twice in the late 80's, the Rebels finished runnerup, so this year's third-seeded team would like nothing better than to claim the one championship that has eluded them.
The Rebels have not played their "A" game yet, but have played well enough to advance to the semifinals to play the defending Class A State Champion Weiner Cardinals and a chance to earn a berth in this year's championship game.
Riverside opened the tournament Monday night with a hard fought 59-46 win over unseeded River Valley, a team the Rebels beat handily earlier in the season. The Rebels found themselves in a dogfight all night long, leading 15-13 after the first quarter, 29-27 at the half, and 41-39 entering the final frame, before exploding in the last four minutes of the game to pull away for a 13-point victory.
Junior guard Zac Reynolds led Riverside with 13 points, while senior Matt Owens and junior Zack Ridge added 11 each. Alex Smith contributed eight points, Michael Dewitt had seven, Tyler Timms scored six, while Von McDaniel pitched in three to round out the Rebel scoring.
Riverside was strong at the free throw line, hitting 20-26 attempts, while nailing five three pointers for the game, while River Valley only managed to get to the line 16 times, hitting 11.
Thomas Polston led the Rangers with 11 points.
"I give River Valley a lot of credit," said Rebel head coach Buster Campbell. "They had a great game plan, so we'll take the win and move on. We were able to force a few turnovers toward the end, and that turned the game. I was proud of my team for that."
The quarterfinal matchup saw the Rebels face a tough Tuckerman Bulldog team which had already upset sixth-seeded Bay in the first round of the tourney.
After an 11-11 first quarter stalemate, Tuckerman outscored the Rebels 15-10 to close out the first half and enter the dressing room ahead 26-21. The second half was not any different as both teams fought tooth and nail throughout the third quarter with Tuckerman maintaining a four point advantage entering the final period of play, 36-32.
Matt Owens, who along with Zac Reynolds paced the Rebels with 18 points, drew his fifth foul with a little over three minutes to play, and things looked bleak for Riverside. But that's when Reynolds took over the game, hitting back-to-back treys and then sinking a driving one handed jumper in the lane to give the Rebels a 44-42 lead they would never relinquish. After a Tuckerman turnover, the Bulldogs were forced to foul and Reynolds iced the game with two free throws, giving the Rebels a 46-42 victory and a trip to the semifinals.
Both teams struggled from the field all day and had trouble getting into an offensive flow. Riverside canned six three pointers on the night, but for the most part, couldn't find the range from the outside and shot a miserable 6-15 at the charity stripe. Tuckerman wasn't much better, hitting on only 7-14 free shots and one trey. But the Bulldogs were able to stay in the game thanks to the strong inside play of Mario Gist and Tyler Sutherland. James Caraway led the Bulldogs with 15 points, mostly on drives to the basket, while Gist and Sutherland had 14 and 13 points respectively.
Other scoring for the Rebels saw Tyler Timms with six points on two treys, Michael Dewitt added three, and Von McDaniel scored one.
"About all I can say is that we are glad to be going to the semifinals," Campbell said. "After watching this game, Weiner is probably licking their chops. Morgan (Tuckerman head coach Morgan Gilbert) and I talked about the game, and agreed that neither team played very well, and the game between our two teams would usually see a score in the 75-80 point range. Both teams played hard defense. It was ugly, but we will take it."
Riverside improves to 15-5 overall on the season and keeps its hopes alive for its first NEA Tournament championship.