Manila breaks 17-year state tourney drought

Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Manila junior Kam Ashabranner drives for two points Friday night during regional tournament semifinal action. Ashabranner was named to the Region 3A-3 Tournament team.

Earle managed to do something no other team had accomplished this season by defeating the Lions on their home floor with a come-from-behind 65-55 victory to claim the 3A-3 Regional Tournament Championship Saturday night at Manila.

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 junior J.J. Helton defends Valley Springs' William Pascoe Friday night in regional tournament semifinal action.

Earle senior point guard Dionte Williams tied the score 45-45 with a pair of free throws to start fourth period, and gave the Bulldogs the lead for good with an offensive stick-back while being fouled 18 seconds later. Williams nailed the free throw to complete the three point play, putting Earle up 48-45 and the Bulldogs never looked back.

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.

Lion senior Blake Wheeler in regional tournament action Friday night at Manila. Wheeler was named to the Regional 3A-3 Tournament team.

The Lions suffered from foul trouble as both Ashabranner and Levi Wallace sat out much of the third quarter with four fouls apiece. "That really hurt us," said Manila coach Bill Taylor. "Kam going out forced us to move Blake (Wheeler) to the point, but maybe the biggest thing was Levi. We really missed his rebounding."

"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.

Manila's Levi Wallace shoots two during semi-final action Friday night against Valley Springs. Wallace was named to the Regiona 3A-3 Tournament team.

Williams joined Wilson in double figures for the Bulldogs, scoring 17 points. Earle hit 25-42 from the foul stripe and drilled two three pointers on the night.

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.

Lion Garrett Scott guards an unidentified Valley Springs Tiger during regional tournament action Friday night at Manila.

The Lions advanced to the championship game with a thrilling 36-26 overtime victory Friday night over the number one team in the state, Valley Springs. Blake Wheeler scored eight of his 11 points in the overtime period to spark the Lions to victory. The senior started the overtime with a three point play and followed that up with a three pointer. Wheeler and Garrett Scott hit two free throws a piece to finish up the scoring. The Lion defense clamped down on the Tigers, holding Valley Springs scoreless in the overtime period.

"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.

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