In Wayne Sherrer’s mind, Monticello’s unblemished success in the 8-4A Conference is all about the kids.
“We’ve got a good group of kids,” the 26th-year head Billies coach said. “We’ve been within a good cycle of kids these last couple of years. We even won the conference in junior high for the second year in a row.
“It’s all about players. You’ve got to be consistent, but you got to have players.”
Consistency defines Sherrer’s Billies (21-3), who finished 14-0 in the 8-4A Conference for the second season in a row and never won by fewer than 10 points in league play.
They’ve done it with a deep bench, using a nine-man rotation in which each player at one point this season has scored in double figures. Senior guard Chris Robertson and sophomore swingman D.J. Franklin each average about 10 points per game, according to Sherrer, while “a lot of guys” chip in about 8 a contest.
“I thought offensively, we’d be able to score a little bit easier than we did last year,” Sherrer said. “When one guy wasn’t at the top of his game, the other guy was there to take up the slack.”
The Billies will rely on their balanced attack when they face a much tougher road that is the 4A South Region Tournament in Nashville, starting tonight with Arkadelphia. All first-round regional winners advance to state.
The Badgers are no ordinary fourth seed coming from the 7-4A. They won the conference, or regular-season, championship with a 12-2 mark, but lost two games in the district tournament to fall to the final playoff seed. Sherrer said two of Arkadelphia’s starters did not play in those games.
“You’re going to have to do it sooner or later,” Sherrer said about beating a state championship contender. “It’s just unfortunate that type of deal happened. Basically it’s two of the top four teams in state playing first round of region, and someone’s going to have to go home.”
Should Monticello beat Arkadelphia, there’s still the possibility of a rematch of last year’s South Region final with Central Arkansas Christian, the reigning 7-4A District champion. CAC won last year’s regional final, and the Mustangs and Billies each would have to win twice to meet again.
“We’re probably not thinking that much about CAC,” Sherrer said. “It’s got to be the next game in front of us that you have to be concerned about.”
Dollarway goes for East Region repeat
As much as Ellis Berry, a former football coach, may have enjoyed the success Dollarway had on the gridiron in 2013, he only wishes it didn’t result in a late start to his 23rd season as the Cardinals’ basketball coach.
“I figured (this season) would go better if we had gotten in there earlier,” Berry said. “Football threw us off. That really put us behind.”
Dollarway lost its basketball season opener to Clarendon after Christmas in the Zebra Invitational, but the Cardinals got the football feel out of them enough to win their next two games in that tournament. And then go 12-2 in the 2-4A Conference.
And then win the 2-4A District Tournament.
Next goal — win the 4A East Region Tournament for a second straight year.
Arkansas football signee Joshua Liddell and Kabion Ento, The Commercial’s Southeast Arkansas Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year in football, have handled the transition to basketball quite well. But that was to be expected from two seniors who led the football Cardinals to a 13-1 state semifinal finish and last season’s basketball Cardinals to a state runner-up placing.
Liddell (17 points per game this season) and Ento (16 ppg) have more than doubled their scoring averages from last season.
“I told them this is their senior year,” Berry said. “Those were the only starters besides Darieus Robinson coming back. With the newcomers, I knew if Liddell and Ento could hold up their end, with those other guys coming up, picking up their game and picking up our schemes, we could do it.”
To return to state, Dollarway has to beat Highland tonight in Clinton. Highland is the fourth seed from the 3-4A.
“We can’t take them for granted,” Berry said. “We’re going to have to play.”
Ricebirds peaking at right time?
Coming off a 5-9 finish in 2-4A play, Stuttgart (13-13) needed a big spark to its postseason run.
Six-foot-2 center Alante Stewart provided it.
“I thought Alante Stewart was really aggressive in our district games,” first-year Stuttgart coach Lance Davis said. “He gave us an anchor on both sides of the ball.”
Davis noted Stewart’s play against two of the better players in the 2-4A, Air Force signee Mason Schroeder of Heber Springs and Blake Mack of Lonoke. Stewart, who averages about 12 points and 9 rebounds per game, had 22 in an elimination-game win over third-seeded Heber Springs and chipped in 13 alongside Alexus Hobbs’ 26 points in the semifinal victory over second-seeded Lonoke.
Stuttgart then lost to Dollarway 57-49 to settle for the second seed in the 4A East Region tourney.
The Ricebirds’ return to regionals — which will be Thursday against Gosnell in Clinton — after a two-year absence is a highlight in an otherwise challenging season. Davis said the difference in this year’s team from last year’s is the senior leadership of K.J. Avery and Stewart.
“They go to work every day and set a good example,” Davis said. “They bought into the system. We just worried about getting better every day.”
And it’s led to the Ricebirds peaking at the right time.
“I never had a team improve as much as this team has,” said Davis, who led Vilonia the previous 14 years.
Will undefeated season help or hurt McGehee?
Playing the 3A Region 4 Tournament at a familiar site such as Drew Central works in McGehee’s favor, Owls coach Jerome Pace believes.
Being undefeated doesn’t, he said.
“Sometimes kids take that for granted,” Pace said, his McGehee ballclub 17-0 this season. “Sometimes when you’re behind the 8-ball, you play a little harder. I’m hoping the guys don’t take that for granted.”
He does know he has an unselfish ballclub, including seniors Tracey Lawson (20 points per game) and juniors Evander Bailey (15 ppg), Trevon Spratt (12 ppg) and Ryan Berry (10 ppg).
“They share the points well, play well,” Pace said. “They don’t come out of the game asking, how many points I have? That’s been a blessing.”
Pace, whose Owls will face Fouke tonight at the regional in Monticello, said his team has handled being unbeaten well at times.
“We’ll get out and stretch (the lead to) 15 and 16 points, but then we get relaxed and not finish the ballgame,” Pace said.
He thinks playing the regional in a gym where McGehee has beaten Drew Central twice and won the 8-3A District Tournament last Friday will be an advantage while his club goes against unfamiliar opponents from the 7-3A. Not that the Owls take that for granted.
“If we stay focused on what we have to do and play our assignments, we’ll be fine.”