Central Arkansas Christian’s Mustangs got their money’s worth in a 13-point win over conference champion Arkadelphia last week.
The win, coupled with losses by Arkansas Baptist and Malvern, clinched for the Mustangs the second seed for this week’s 7-4A District Tournament at Nashville.
Matt Hall’s Mustangs, who started the week 10-14 overall and 8-5 in league play, closed the regular season Monday against Bauxite in a make-up game because of weather a couple of weeks ago. They are now off until Friday’s semifinals. The district championship is set for Saturday.
And since the top four teams from the district tournament move on to the Class 4A South Regional, the Mustangs have already clinched a berth there. The top four teams from the regional (next week, also at Nashville) will advance to the Class 4A State Tournament at Lonoke.
“It gives us a really good chance to get a good seed into the regional and try to make a run in the state tournament, which would be really exciting for this group,” first-year Mustang coach Hall said of his motivation heading into the district tournament. “Nobody would’ve thought this group would be going to the state tournament, so I would love for these seniors to be able to do it when nobody thought we could.”
The Mustangs were picked sixth in the preseason by league coaches, and now they are one win away from state since first-round regional winners will qualify.
“But you don’t want to be the fourth seed (from the district) to play Monticello (top-seeded from the 8-4A for the regional),” Hall said. “You’re going to want to be a 1 or 2 seed going into the regional to give yourself a really good chance.”
And thus the push to at least reach the championship game Saturday at Nashville.
CAC knocked off Arkadelphia, 53-40, in the first of three games last week, building on its six-point halftime lead. Joseph Strange hit 21 points. Stephen Flanigan added 17.
“That was a big game for us,” Hall said. “Essentially, that was the win that sealed up the 2 seed.”
The Mustangs then knocked off Pulaski Robinson, 55-36, after building an 8-0 lead and settling for a 32-20 halftime advantage. Flanigan scored 18 and Davis Allen added 13.
CAC lost at Ashdown on Friday, however.
“I didn’t feel like we played nearly our best, but they made eight 3s and shot the ball really well and did a good job on us,” Hall said. “They just played better than we did.”
Heading into the tournament, Hall said Sunday the likely seedings would be Arkadelphia first, followed by CAC, Arkansas Baptist, Nashville, Malvern, Bauxite, Ashdown and Robinson. Bauxite and Ashdown were likely to play in the opening round, with the winner advancing to the quarterfinals against Arkansas Baptist and the survivor of that one to see CAC in the semifinals.
Despite having its big center hurt and expected to miss the district tournament, Arkadelphia will likely be in the championship game from the other half of the bracket.
“I feel like we are peaking at the right time,” Hall said. “We’ve found our identity. They’ve bought into the system. We have to be really good defensively to win ball games, and even though that’s not the most fun thing to do, they’ve bought in.
“They’re a scrappy group. They claw and fight and give us the chance to win. With Arkadelphia’s big kid hurt, I honestly feel like anybody can win it.”