Rector Boys Season Ends at 1A State Tourney
The Rector Cougars fell to the Woodlawn Bears in the first round of the state 1A basketball tournament Monday morning at Morrilton. The boys in blue were coming off a grueling regional at Armorel, which saw them breeze by Calico Rock in the first round and then drop a pair of two-point decisions to the host Tigers and Izard County Consolidated.
The Cougars drew Calico Rock in their first round regional game at Armorel, and pulled away late on the Pirates to notch a 57-46 win. The two squads played even in the first, and were knotted at 10-10 after one. CR outscored the Cougars 16-12 in the second, as they took a 26-22 advantage into the locker room at the half.
But, the RHS boys responded in the third, outscoring the Pirates 17-8 in the frame to take a 39-34 lead into the fourth. They continued to pull away down the stretch, as they pushed to the 57-46 final.
Kirk Beshears led all scorers with 27 points, including a 15 for 22 night from the charity stripe. Max Ford was also in double figures with 17 while Kale Hardin finished with 7 and Sam Simmons had 6 points in the win.
The win over Calico Rock earned the Cougars a second round match-up with Armorel in the semi-finals, and more importantly the spot in Monday's state bracket. Making the trip back to Mississippi County the following night, the Cougars jumped to an early lead on the Tigers only to fade late.
Rector jumped to an 18-15 lead by the end of the first quarter, and extended the advantage to 28-24 at the break. The Tigers responded with a big defensive effort in the third, scoring 11 points while holding the Cougars to just 5 points in the frame, as they took a 35-33 lead into the fourth quarter.
Down the stretch the two teams played evenly, although the Rector squad had a dismal night at the free throw line. When the final buzzer had sounded the home crowd rejoiced, as Armorel had advanced 53-51.
Beshears had another huge game, leading all scorers with 30 points, while Ford finished with 9, Jordan Wilson had 7 and Hardin finished with 5 points in the loss. As a team the Rector squad only converted on 3 of 24 free throws, while Armorel was 9 of 12 from the stripe.
The loss in the semi-finals pushed the Cougars into the third-fourth place seeding game, set for 1:30 Saturday afternoon. Their opponents were the other Cougars in the bracket, as top-seeded Izard County Consolidated had been beaten by the Bay Yellowjackets in the other boy's semi.
What played out for a fairly small, but faithful, crowd of supporters from both schools was an epic battle which ended with a two-point ICC win, 40-38.
The potent ICC Cougars broke out early, but the Rector squad answered late in the first, as the score stood at 14-11 in favor of the team from Izard County after one. In the second quarter the Cougars began to have additional foul trouble, and ICC stretched the lead to 25-18 by the halftime break.
The Rector squad came out of the locker room following the break with renewed resolve, as they battled and cut the lead to 29-28 by the end of the third quarter.
Down the stretch neither team could pull away, as the squads swapped baskets and the occasional foul.
With ICC leading by three points, Rector's Wilson made an outstanding block from behind to get the ball back, leading to an RHS timeout with under 20 seconds to play.
Following the timeout ICC was whistled for a foul, although Rector was still not in the bonus. On the inbound play Beshears launched a contested three, and was fouled, sending him to the free throw line with a chance to tie the game with under four seconds to play.
The talented senior missed the first free-throw, then made the second to cut it to a two point game. On the third try he intentionally missed, with the rebound going to Hardin. He kicked the ball to Hunter McNeely, who got off an off-balance shot which failed to drop.
“I thought we played really well, but when you get to this point of the year everybody is pretty good and it kind of comes down to who makes the big play at the end, and they hit the big three today,” Coach Matt Mills said of the loss to ICC. “If that kid misses that three there toward the end, we feel like we've got a good chance to win.”
Despite the loss, Mills noted the Cougars were never out of the ballgame. “I was pleased and I thought we played really hard and I thought we played really well and gave ourselves a chance,” he surmised.
Mills also pointed to the battle with Armorel the night before as a key to the team's performance.
“Especially in the first half I thought we looked very tired, I thought we looked a step slow and I thought we looked sluggish,” he offered. “But, I felt like in the second half we kind of settled in and played with a lot of guts and toughness. In fact, I think we outplayed them in the second half but we'd already dug too big of a hole in the first half and couldn't overcome it.”
The loss to ICC set the Cougars' spot in this week's state bracket at Morrilton, and Monday morning's game with the Bears. The early first round start also meant a short turn-around, as the team was forced to re-group on Sunday for the trip.
“We talked about that before the game (with ICC), win or lose we liked out chances going into the state tournament,” he added. “We feel like we've got a chance, our only concern is the quick turnaround you know, only getting one day off.”
In the contest with the Bears, the Cougars got off to a strong early start and were knotted with Woodlawn at 13-13 at the end of one. In the second quarter the Bears pushed the lead to 5 points, as they took a 30-25 advantage into the break.
Woodlawn extended the lead to 8 points by the end of the third quarter, as they took a 43-34 advantage into the fourth. And, despite a late run by the Cougars, as they outscored the Bears 20-17 in the fourth quarter, it was too-little, too-late as the RHS boys fell 60-55 in the effort to notch their 20th win of the season.