The Lions, who were previously unbeaten at home, looked as though they would remain that way as they held a 41-28 lead with 6:35 left in the third quarter. But the Bulldogs battled back behind the hot shooting of senior guard Michael Wilson, outscoring Manila 15-4 to pull within 45-43 entering the final quarter.
"Michael is our team captain," said Earle coach Billy Murray. "He came to me at halftime and told me he wanted the ball, that he could score. I told Michael we would get him the ball and he did the rest. I knew when Manila got in foul trouble that we could make a comeback."
Manila jumped out to an 18-13 lead after the first quarter and took a 33-26 advantage into halftime. Blake Wheeler, who led the Lions with 21 points, drilled a three pointer to start the final period, upping the Manila lead to 10, before Kam Ashabranner completed a conventional three point play, pushing the Lion advantage to 13, its biggest of the night.
But the Bulldogs took over from that point on, outscoring Manila 39-16 the rest of the way to claim a number one seed in next week's state tournament at Jessieville.
"Along with our foul problems, I thought the turning point of the game was when Earle started getting to the rim and just out-rebounded us," said Taylor. "They really are a good shooting team and when they missed they continued to get two and three shots. When it came unwound, we took some really, really bad shots, so when we came unglued it was total. We had a good opportunity to win a regional championship and we let it get away from us. I am disappointed but what matters to me is next week. The other 51 weeks of the year don't matter to me, it's this one coming up. Our team is continuing to show me that they can make a run. They are showing me some things that I am real excited about."
Ashabranner and Wallace also hit double digits for Manila, scoring 12 and 10 points respectively. J.J. Helton finished with six, Garrett Scott had five while Blake Carr added one. The Lions hit 21-31 free throws and drained four treys.
The Lions punched their ticket to the state tournament, trouncing Yellville-Summit 67-36 on Thursday night. Blake Wheeler and J.J. Helton led the Lions with 14 points apiece while Levi Wallace and Kam Ashabranner scored 13 and 10 points respectively. Blake Carr tallied eight, Taylor Morgan netted four while Zack Day and Blake Miller chipped in two.
Manila led 20-8 after the opening period and held a 38-24 advantage at the half. The Lions took a 63-28 lead into the fourth quarter.
"I just did what I could," said Wheeler. "We played as a team. Our defense played really well tonight. We came out with a win and that's all that matters. It's feels great to be going to the state tournament, especially after 17 years, which makes it even better."
Valley Springs began the game with a 9-0 run before Manila finally scored its only points of the quarter on a Levi Wallace lay-up with two seconds left in the period.
The Lions clawed their way back in the second quarter, and pulled to within 16-14 by the half. Neither team could find the basket in the third quarter, except for a three pointer by Wheeler at the 5:35 mark, giving Manila a 17-16 edge heading into the final frame as the Tigers went scoreless in the quarter.
Manila built a 21-16 lead in the fourth period, thanks to a three point play by Kam Ashabranner with 6:06 left in the game, but the Tigers battled back behind William Pascoe, who scored five straight points, cutting the Lion lead to 24-23 with 2:59 remaining. Nick Wayman, who led Valley Springs in scoring with 12 points, gave the Tigers the lead, 26-24, with a three point play at the 2:39 mark. Ashabranner hit both ends of a one and one with 2:30 left to knot the score at 26 all.
Valley Springs had one last chance to win in regulation, but turned the ball over in the waning seconds as time expired, sending the game into overtime.
Ashabranner finished the night with nine points, Wallace scored seven, Scott tallied six while Helton added three. The Lions nailed 12 of their 14 free throw attempts and made four three pointers on the evening.
Manila will begin state tournament play Thursday afternoon at 2:30 against Parkers Chapel.