The last time Dollarway and Jonesboro Westside met on the basketball court, it ended in high drama.
Jonathan Liddell knocked down a jumper before the buzzer sounded to give Dollarway a 50-49 victory and send the Cardinals to the 4A state semifinals, where they bowed out to Pulaski Academy.
Now, after posting a perfect record in a conference once unfamiliar to them, the Cardinals (24-2) have a little familiarity on their side when they begin 4A East Region Tournament play Wednesday.
For one, the tournament will be held at Heber Springs, a 2-4A Conference partner of Dollarway’s. Also, the Cardinals will take on Westside again at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“We feel real good” about the matchup, Dollarway coach Ellis Berry said Monday. “They’re not real big, but they’ve got players. They put up 30 to 40 threes a game, so we’re gonna have to get out and guard them.”
Guarding against teams has been the Cardinals’ specialty for many years. In fact, they counted on their defense late in Saturday’s 2-4A District championship against Lonoke, holding the Jackrabbits to four points in the final 8 minutes to take a 45-38 win.
“We had to reestablish ourselves on the defensive end,” Berry said, talking about strategy after the Cards trailed 20-13 at halftime. “We were giving up too many easy shots. They were getting to the goal; that’s how they were beating us.”
The district title capped off a successful first year in the 2-4A, where Dollarway went 14-0 in conference play after many years in the 8-4A.
“We knew the 8-4A was a little stronger and tougher, but in this conference you have to play a little better defense, because the teams up here, they do the little things well,” Berry said.
Dollarway has relied on many scoring threats this season and has only one player averaging double figures in scoring — senior forward Davonne Chapman at 15.3 points per game. But classmate Jeremiah Young stepped up his offense during a six-game absence for Chapman and has seven games of 10 or more points despite a 7.5-point per game average.
Sherrer puts no pressure on hot Billies
Going 14-0 in a new conference — just as Dollarway did — was nothing that the Monticello Billies talked about doing, but they did it.
It just wasn’t easy to achieve perfection in the 8-4A Conference.
“It was difficult because with teenagers, you never know what they’re going to be like from day to day,” 25th-year head coach Wayne Sherrer said. “Once we got to the halfway point (in the conference), it was a matter of how to keep everybody’s attention.”
The Billies must have paid plenty of attention while drawing much of it during its first conference championship season since 1998. One of their big reasons for success has been senior guard Torry Butler, who’s coming off a 26-point game against Star City on Friday.
With the pressure of staying unbeaten behind them, Monticello must now take care of a little bit of business — by beating Nashville at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday for a state tournament berth. It’s a quarterfinal game of the 4A South Regional at Ouachita Baptist University.
But Sherrer’s not trying to add any more pressure on his team. He didn’t during the conference slate.
“The way we try to approach it is not make the game bigger than it is,” he said. “What happens with some teams, if you do that, is that they come out tight.”
Pirates break long district title drought
Drew Central coach C.J. Watson figured Monday that it had been 38 years since the Pirates won a district tournament.
He called their upset of conference champion McGehee in the 8-3A District final on Friday “a big step” for the program, which won its first state championship in 1975.
“I just think our kids came out and played like they wanted to win,” said Watson, a Drew Central alumnus in his first year as head coach. “Our scoring was balanced. I think we played like we refused to lose. They thought they could match up with them.”
Of course, the Pirates (21-9) had come real close to beating McGehee (18-3) in their previous meeting, but the Owls won in overtime en route to going 8-0 in the 8-3A.
The third time was the charm. Now the Pirates have added confidence going into their opening 3A Region 4 game against Fouke at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in Prescott.
Watson hopes it’s not too much confidence.
“I don’t mind us having a little swagger, but I don’t want us to be overconfident,” Watson said.
Owls coach: Tough to beat a team 3 times
Jerome Pace was asked Monday how his McGehee team would respond after losing the 8-3A District championship to Drew Central.
“We had a good practice today,” he said. “It’s just hard to beat a team three times. We didn’t play well as I thought we could. We didn’t play with any type of emotion until the last quarter.”
Pace said he was unsure why the Owls lacked emotion, but he’s sure of one thing — that they can meet the Pirates again for the 3A Region 4 championship.
“We’ll see them again in the finals if we take care of business,” Pace said.
They did throughout the conference season, relying on balanced scoring and hard-nosed defense. Three seniors, Zach Ellis, Maurice Hudson and Marcus Miller, each average around 15 points per game.
The business at hand for McGehee now is securing a berth in the 3A state tournament. The Owls can do that with a win over Bismarck at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Prescott in a Region 4 quarterfinal.