Central Arkansas Christian’s Lady Mustangs lost their seventh consecutive game in their series with Malvern last week to finish runner-up in the Class 4A South Regional.
If Steve Quattlebaum’s team gets one more shot at the Lady Leopards, it would be a big one — in next week’s Class 4A state championship game.
CAC (23-6), the No. 2 seed from the South, has a bye to Saturday’s Class 4A state quarterfinals at Lonoke and will face the winner of Brookland, No. 2 from the East, and Prairie Grove, fourth from the North, at 7 p.m. The winner will move to Monday’s 6 p.m. semifinal against the survivor of Valley View (top-seeded from the East), against the winner of Ozark (second from the North) and Nashville (fourth from the South).
Although the fourth seed from the regional, Prairie Grove won its district tournament.
“All the teams from their conference won in the regional,” Quattlebaum said. “They’re pretty good, plus they have a good history of state tournament play. They were in the state finals last year and lost on a last-second shot to Malvern. They’ve got a couple of starters back, but they lost their best player. Prairie Grove-Brookland should be a really good game.”
The top half of the bracket includes Malvern (27-2, top seed from the South), against the winner of the first-round game between Heber Springs (third from the East) and Berryville (No. 3 from the North); and Farmington (No. 1 from the North) against the winner of Star City (third from the South) and, Lonoke (fourth from the East). The survivor of that half will play in Monday’s noon semifinal.
The championship will be next week at Summit Arena in Hot Springs. Game date and time will be set early next week.
“We got a good draw,” Quattlebaum said Monday. “Ozark is pretty good, too, and really, I feel like Brookland might be better than Valley View.
“But they’re all good teams from here on out. It’s up to you to play and win. But I know this — none of them are Malvern.”
He said the Lady Leopards would be the favorite to win a second straight state title. But if CAC can get there, the Lady Mustangs could provide the biggest obstacle. Malvern won the two regular-season meetings, 52-45 and 46-38; and prevailed twice in the post-season (in the district championship, 42-30, and in the regional final, 51-42). Malvern won all three meetings last season.
“They’re just better than we are, I guess,” Quattlebaum said of the Lady Leopards. “But they’re better than a lot of people. I was pretty proud of our effort and really of our whole week.”
In the opening round of the regional, CAC beat Crossett, 67-50, to secure a trip to state. In the semifinals, the Lady Mustangs got past Star City, 48-37.
“We played a pretty good game against Crossett,” Quattlebaum said. “We had a few too many turnovers, but we shot the ball pretty well and had a lot of people scoring. We were pretty balanced, which was good.”
Falan Miller scored 26 to lead CAC. Sydnie Jones added 19 and Chloe Elkins 14 to set up the date with Star City.
“They’re a little down from the past but still a good, solid basketball team that’s well-coached and fundamentally sound,” Quattlebaum said. “The kids are used to winning.”
CAC led at halftime, 19-18, before taking a three-point lead into the fourth quarter and hitting some free throws late to ice the win.
“They had one really good player that we focused on,” Quattlebaum said. “She was averaging close to 20 and ended up with 10. That was one of our better defensive efforts of the season. We frustrated her a little bit.”
Offensively, the Lady Mustangs got 22 points from Jones and 11 from Miller.
“And Elkins hit two big 3s in the third quarter,” the coach said. “Chloe’s been shooting the ball real well lately. She made four of five 3-pointers against Crossett. She’s been getting some assists and playing good defense, too. She’s played good defense, too. We’ll need that (in the state tournament). We need her to take some pressure off some of the other scorers.”
Against Malvern in the regional championship, the Lady Mustangs led at the break, 23-20, and looked to keep the lead after three before the Lady Leopards hit a trey and a pair of free throws that gave them a one-point edge heading into the fourth quarter. Malvern won the final period, 15-7.
Miller led CAC with 17 points.
“She had another really good game with several assists, but Jones had seven — two in the second half,” Quattlebaum said. “We just didn’t do a very good job of getting her the ball. We’ve got to get more than two points out of her in a half or we’re going to struggle against good teams.”