HOT SPRINGS — Not one time did the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats take an opponent for granted while working towards one goal the entire season.
Winning a 7A state title was accomplished last Thursday as the Wildcats (26-2) held off the Springdale Bulldogs, 89-81, at Summit Arena in Hot Springs. With 29 points, two assists and two steals, senior Anton Beard was named the MVP of the game.
Except for Springdale’s short-lived 4-2 margin, North Little Rock led the entire contest. However, they had to hold off the Bulldogs (22-6) as they made several runs at the Wildcats. North Little Rock’s largest lead was 14 points and kept the led by 10-12 points often, but the Bulldogs would not give up.
“Give Springdale credit,” North Little Rock Coach Johnny Rice said. “I thought since it was their first time, they might be nervous. They weren’t and turned it into a game.”
Winning North Little Rock’s first title in 42 years last season was special for Rice. However, the Wildcat’s capture of this year’s state championship and defending its state title was a lot different as North Little Rock was everybody’s target this season. Ironically, North Little Rock’s only two losses came to Little Rock Parkview and Jonesboro, who both played in the 6A state championship with Jonesboro winning that one.
“We had a big X on us, and everybody had us circled on their schedules,” Rice said. “We got everybody’s best shot every night.”
Also, Rice had several outstanding players and had to keep that cohesiveness throughout the entire season. Fortunately for him, he had to deal with no egos, and the players bought into the team concept.
“Other coaches told me I didn’t have enough basketballs for all my players,” Rice said. “The kids liked each other and played for each other which is something I preached all year. Even though we had a lot of talent, they knew if we didn’t play together and play hard we could lose. Different people stepped up different nights.”
Against Springdale, junior Kevaughn Allen piled up 28 points, K.J. Hill added 12, senior Khalil Gulley finished with six, sophomore Adrian Moore and senior Chibu Ekeh chipped in five while senior Jawan Eldridge contributed four. Ekeh led in rebounds with eight, and Gulley and Hill pulled down six.
“They are really good and used to playing on the big stage,” Springdale Coach Brad Stamps said. “We didn’t fear them but respected them, and Johnny does a good job with his kids.”
Rice knew if North Little Rock didn’t win a state title then the season would have not been considered a good one. With that expectation attached to the Wildcats all year, Rice is just proud of his team for sticking together and accomplishing their main goal.