After starting the season 2-10, Central Arkansas Christian’s Mustangs are 7-4A district champions.
Matt Hall’s first Mustang squad looks to be peaking at just the right time.
"It’s kind of amazing after the start we had," Hall said. "Nobody would’ve been down on anybody if they’d hung their heads, but they never doubted each other, never bickered. They just kept working and working and working, and that pays off in life as well as in basketball.
"That’s a lesson they’ll be able to take outside of basketball. It’s not always pretty and fun, but if you keep grinding, good things can happen."
CAC (13-14 overall) finished runner-up to Arkadelphia in the conference race but will be the 7-4A’s top seed in this week’s Class 4A South Regional at Nashville. The Mustangs were to play Hamburg in Wednesday’s first-round game.
A first-round regional win would assure the Mustangs of a return trip to the Class 4A State Tournament next week at Lonoke.
Other first-round regional games included Monticello, top seed from the 8, against Arkadelphia, fourth from the 7; Dumas, No. 2 from the 8, against Bauxite, No. 3 from the 7; and Nashville, second from the 7, against Warren, third from the 8.
First-round winners will meet in Friday’s semifinals. Championship and consolation games are scheduled for Saturday.
The most intriguing first-round match-up is between the two conference champions, Monticello and Arkadelphia. But the Badgers were without two of their best players because of injury and suspension for the district tournament and went 0-2, dropping to the fourth seed, and now must knock off Monticello to reach state. Hall said he expected the Badgers to be a full strength this week.
Meanwhile, CAC has continued to improve, he said.
"I feel like we’re still getting better," he said Monday. "I don’t feel like we’ve started a decline. We just keep finding ways to score. We’re not scoring pretty, but we’re finding ways to do it, and we’re still defending well, which we’ve got to keep doing. That’s been our identity since our climb to success, and we’ve got to keep doing that."
CAC won three games last week, knocking off Bauxite on Monday in the regular-season finale that had no real effect on the post-season seeding.
"The game didn’t mean anything for us, but it was nice to play well," Hall said. "We did some good stuff, and it carried over to the weekend."
The Mustangs then moved on to the district tournament, where they faced the Miners again after their bye to the semifinals and won, 47-40. Stephen Flanigan scored 14; Joseph Strange added 13. Bauxite’s Ben Madison scored 30 of his team’s total.
CAC drew Nashville, the home team, as a surprise opponent in the district championship. Hall said the Scrappers had moved up a freshman guard since the end of the junior high season, and he made a difference.
"Not so much scoring, but he’s super athletic," he said. "He does a really good job defensively, which gives them a spark of energy."
The Mustangs led by six at halftime and built that to 11 heading into the fourth quarter, but Hall said he never felt comfortable with the partisan crowd. Flanigan’s 20 led CAC again; Strange added 13.