(Photo for Town Crier by Clifton Garmrath)
The matchup between Northeast Arkansas' two biggest rivals had been building since their last meeting in the same gym on Jan. 27, when BIC held off the Rebels in similar fashion. As soon as Bay's Lady Yellowjackets had claimed the girls championship with a 63-44 victory over Marmaduke, a buzz began to fill the air and when the teams finally hit the court the noise level was so loud one could barely hear himself think.
With everyone expecting a high-scoring shootout between the league's two best teams, what they got instead was defense at its best. But in the end, it came down to Ballard, who nailed back-to-back three pointers, the second giving the Mustangs their biggest lead of the night, 39-31, with 5:35 to play.
The Rebels made one last charge as Tyler Timms drilled a three-pointer off the left wing at the 4:05 mark to pull Riverside within 39-34. On BIC's next possession, sharp-shooting Mark Hawkins, who had been frustrated all night by the defensive tandem of Timms and senior Michael Dewitt, was called for throwing an elbow, sending Timms to the line and giving the Rebels a chance to cut further into the Mustang lead. After Timms missed the front end of the one-and-one, senior Matt Owens grabbed the rebound and stuck it back in to close the gap to 39-36 with 3:36 left.
Mustang guard Brooks Taylor, who was held to 5-23 shooting on the night, including a 0-9 performance from the three-point arc by Rebel Alex Smith, then hit a crucial fall-away jumper from 12 feet to put the Ponies back up 41-36 with 1:38 to go. After a Ballard free throw gave BIC a 42-36 lead with 56 seconds to go, Owens quickly retaliated with a driving lay-up to cut the margin to 42-38 with 49 seconds remaining. When Taylor missed the front end of a one-and-one, Ballard picked up his fourth foul, sending Owens to the line, where he made both free throws to make the score 42-40, but that is as close as the Rebels would come as the Mustangs sank six straight free throws down the stretch to close out the victory.
"It was a good defensive battle," BIC coach Bill Taylor said. "I was very proud of my team defensively. Offensively we couldn't hit a shot because Riverside was guarding us so dang tough. We're proud to get our fourth straight championship, but what is more impressive to me is beating Riverside in their gym. I hope we play one more time. That means we are both going to the state tournament. I commend Riverside on their defensive effort. Luckily, they didn't shoot it great either. It was a blue collar game for sure. Brandon (Ballard) showed again why he is the best player in the league. He's the best player I've ever had the privilege of coaching. That's what great players like him do. They do it in crunch time.
"Mark Hawkins' defense on Zac Reynolds and Josh Nettles' and Mark Teguns' defense on Matt Owens was huge. They did a great job in our triangle and two defense."
"It was the kind of game we wanted," said Riverside coach Buster Campbell. "We got in a three-point shoot out at BIC and got beat by 17. But the last two games we've had a chance and that's all we can ask for. They hit some big shots. We didn't shoot free throws well and had some bad offensive possessions. I can(t say anything bad about our defense. It was outstanding.
|"I told our kids after the game to keep their heads up. They have nothing to be ashamed of. BIC has a good ball club, and Ballard delivered. He's a heck of a player. I was very proud of Zack Ridge who had 17 rebounds. Our hustle was excellent. I thought a big key was that we made some bad decisions offensively, and in a game like this, those are magnified. BIC did an excellent job with their triangle and two defense and it really frustrated Zac (Reynolds), who was held to three points. I told Zac that was a compliment to him. He will have to get used to that in the future."|
"Both teams played outstanding defense," said Mustang star Brandon Ballard. "We knew we had to to win. Both teams wanted it bad. The atmosphere was great, everybody just wanted to play hard. Neither team shot the ball well. I got open for a couple of shots in the second half and thank God I knocked them down. We were struggling from outside all night."
|Rebel guard Matt Owens agreed with Ballard, calling it a great defensive battle. "We were able to keep it close the whole game, but in the end they made their free throws and were able to put in away. We have been working hard all year and it has paid off for us. We knew all along that we were a good team. We just needed confidence in ourselves that we could go this far," concluded the all-conference selection.|
The game was tight throughout as the lead changed hands on numerous occasions. After Owens gave Riverside a 13-11 lead with 50 seconds to go in the first period, Ballard nailed a long trey at the buzzer to give the Mustangs a 14-13 lead entering the second quarter. The second quarter was a repeat of the first as the game see-sawed back and forth before Josh Nettles hit a three pointer with 19 seconds to go to give the Ponies a 21-19 lead at intermission.
Just like the first two quarters, BIC closed the third quarter out by scoring last when Derek Rolland put in an offensive rebound at the horn, giving the Mustangs a 31-27 lead entering the final frame.
Ballard led the Mustangs with 22 points, while Taylor added 13. Nettles scored five, Mark Teguns had four, while Hawkins and Rolland added two points apiece. BIC hit 11-14 from the line and added five three-pointers.
With the win, BIC improves to 34-1 on the year and will be the numberone seed from the 3AA North conference. The Mustangs will play the fourth seed from the 3AA-South, Crawfordsville, at 5:30 Wednesday.
|Riverside was paced by Owens' 16 points, while Ridge scored 12 to go along with his game-high 17 boards. Timms had six points, while Reynolds scored three. Dewitt and Smith completed the Rebel attack with two points apiece. The Rebels shot only 6-11 from the free throw line and were held to three treys on the night.|
Riverside dropped to 26-8 on the year, including three losses to BIC. The Rebels will advance to the 3AA regional tournament at Marked Tree as the second seed from the 3AA-North conference. Riverside will meet the third-seeded Earle Bulldogs from the 3AA-South conference at 8:30 on Thursday night.
The 3AA-North Conference team was headed up by Ballard, who was also named the first recipient of the Shawn Tillery Player of the Year Award, which goes to the Most Valuable Player in the league. Ballard was joined on the all conference team by teammates Brooks Taylor, Mark Hawkins and Mark Teguns. Runnerup Riverside placed three players on the all-conference squad, led by Owens, along with teammates Zac Reynolds and Zack Ridge. The remainder of the all-conference team includes Bay, Brett Hogan, Derek McMasters and Robby Bollinger; Crowley's Ridge Academy, Caleb Livingston and Joseph Wallis; Marmaduke, John Clark and Brian Potter; Walnut Ridge, Ryan Belcher and Chance Weeks; Maynard, Josh Cagle and Rector, Nathan Wyatt.
Both Ballard and Owens were selected to the AA All-State team, while Owens was also nominated for the annual Arkansas All-Star game.
Riversides-Campbell was chosen as the 3AA North Conference Coach of the Year, while Buffalo Island Central's Bill Taylor was named as the All-Star Coach Nominee.
Ballard called the Tillery Award a special award. "He was a great guy. I loved him and he loved me. He was an awesome coach. He was good to everybody. He was not only a great coach but a great person. It's an awesome award and I love it."
When asked about being selected All-State and as the all-star nominee, Owens said, "It's great. I've been working real hard. It's a great honor."
BIC vs. Bay
The Mustangs advanced to the championship game with a hard fought 67-60 victory over the Bay Yellowjackets Thursday night at Caraway. BIC, which escaped with a double overtime victory over Bay in their previous meeting, had to come from behind in the second half to pull out the win.
The Jackets jumped out to a 13-9 first quarter lead and took a 33-29 advantage into the locker room at the half. Bay stretched the lead to 37-31 with 6:14 to go in the third quarter before BIC mounted the comeback.
Brandon Ballard, Josh Nettles and Brooks Taylor hit consecutive three-point shots to rally the Ponies to a 40-39 lead with 3:57 to go in the third period. After Bay tied the game at 45-all with 2:00 remaining in the period, Taylor was called for an offensive foul and coach Taylor was slapped with a technical for disputing the call. Bay then had the opportunity to take the lead, but Robby Bollinger missed both free throws and then the Jackets failed to convert on the ensuing possession.
Mark Hawkins then drilled a three-pointer to put BIC in front, 48-45, with 1:07 to go in the third quarter. After a Bollinger basket, the Mustangs scored the final six points of the quarter to give BIC a 54-47 entering the final frame.
Bay mounted one last charge and took a brief 58-57 lead with 3:20 to go in the game. But Taylor quickly answered with a basket of his own and the Mustangs took the lead for good, 59-58. BIC then closed out the win at the free throw line, sending them to the title game against Riverside.
Taylor led the Mustangs with 21 points, while Ballard and Nettles added 15 each. Hawkins and Mark Teguns closed out the Mustang scoring with eight points apiece. BIC hit 11-18 at the free throw line and had 10 three-pointers on the night.
Bay was led in scoring by McMasters and Bollinger, who had 20 and 17 points respectively. Bay hit 8-13 from the charity stripe while making four three-pointers.
Riverside vs CRA
Like BIC, Riverside found the path to the finals a rocky road as well as the Crowley's Ridge Academy Falcons battled the Rebels for four quarters before Riverside finally prevailed with a 49-43 victory.
Riverside held what seemingly was a comfortable eight-point lead after the first quarter, 14-6; however, in the second quarter the Rebels went cold from the field and the Falcons battled back to pull within 22-17 at the half.
The Rebels managed a 35-26 lead after three quarters and CRA could get no closer than four points in the fourth quarter as the Rebels advanced to the championship game against BIC.
Riverside used a tenacious defense that forced the Falcons into numerous turnovers to offset an off night by all-conference guard Matt Owens, who was held to seven points. Zac Reynolds took up the slack with a game-high 19 points, which included five three-pointers. Reynolds' second trey of the game broke the all-time Riverside record for three pointers in a single season previously held by T. J. Eakins. It was Reynolds 100th three pointer on the year.
Rounding out the scoring for the Rebels was Zack Ridge, with 12 points, while Alex Smith and Michael Dewitt had four points apiece and Tyler Timms added three. The Rebels hit 10-18 from the charity stripe and had five three-pointers on the night.
The Falcons were led by Joseph Wallis, who scored 13 points. CRA hit 6-10 free throws and also had five three-pointers in the game.