LONOKE — The first quarter wasn’t even half over and Dollarway coach Ellis Berry already had a big decision to make.
Star player Kabion Ento had picked up his second foul. The Cardinals were leading 8-6 and the senior already had four points, including a three-pointer just moments before.
Berry made the decision to keep Ento in the game, and the decision paid off big time.
Ento finished with a game-high 17 points and second-seeded Dollarway rolled over fourth-seeded Prairie Grove, 69-43, in the first round of the 4A state tournament at Lonoke High School’s Gina Cox Center.
“We thought about it,” Berry said when asked if he considered pulling Ento. “But we decided he’s a senior and knows how to keep from picking up his third foul.”
His faith was rewarded, as Ento did not commit a foul the rest of the game. It’s a feat that is quite remarkable considering the frantic style Dollarway plays on the defensive end and the way Ento crashes the offensive glass.
Even with the two fouls, Ento said he didn’t really change his approach — especially on the offensive end.
“I knew I had my team behind me,” Ento said. “I just tried to stay on my feet and not be reaching.”
He did more than just that.
After picking up that second foul, Ento drew a foul on the offensive end and hit 1 of 2 free throws to give his team a 9-6 lead.
He then ignited the Cardinals with an alley-oop dunk off an assist by Gujuan Christmas before hitting a pair of threes — all still in the first quarter.
By the end of the opening period, Ento had 13 points and Dollarway led 22-11.
“When he got that dunk it kind of got the guys going,” Berry said. “It kind of lifted them up.”
The Tigers (17-14) scored the final seven points of the first half, but the Cardinals were still in control 41-24 at the break.
“That was big,” Berry said. “We wanted to give the guys as much rest as possible.”
Ento was one of the players who needed the break after coming down hard on a layup attempt.
“Knee is a little sore,” Ento said. “It’s a little bruised.
“It hurt a little bit more at the time, but I’ll be a go for (Saturday).”
Dollarway (19-4) will need him as they face second-seeded Monticello, which received a bye, at 5:30 p.m.
Both teams suffered tough losses in the championship game of their respective region. Dollarway was routed by Brookland, 56-33, while Monticello was edged by Central Arkansas Christian, 50-48.
“They all came in very focused,” Berry said of his team’s approach to practice this week. “Their mind was still right.
“We lost to a very good Brookland team, and in some ways I think it kind of helped us. We had won about seven or eight in a row.
“We knew we had to bounce back.”
They bounced back convincingly against Prairie Grove, but the job gets a lot tougher with Monticello on the horizon.
“It’s a tough draw all the way through the state tournament,” Berry said. “Coach (Wayne) Sherrer does a great job with his ballclub. They’ve been No. 1 all year long in their league.
“It’s not an easy task, but we’re excited for the challenge.”