Central Arkansas Christian’s Mustangs completed a perfect run through the 7-4A conference schedule last week to earn the top seed for this week’s district tournament.
Steve Quattlebaum’s Mustangs knocked off Arkadelphia last week, 61-52, and Ashdown, 59-44, on Senior Night at Mustang Mountain to finish the regular season 21-5 (14-0 in conference play).
As the conference champions and top seed, they have a bye to Thursday’s district semifinal, where they will meet the survivor of Tuesday’s game between fourth seed Bauxite and the survivor of No. 5 Malvern and No. 8 Pulaski Robinson at 5:20 p.m.
Arkadelphia is seeded second and also goes automatically to the semis. Arkansas Baptist is third. Ashdown is No. 6 and Nashville No. 7.
Quattlebaum said it was a bit concerning to think about possibly getting the host team in the semis.
"But we beat them once pretty good there, and they actually played us closer at our place," he said. "They’ve been on a down swing, but it’s always dangerous when you’re playing a team on their home floor."
The semifinal appearance guarantees the Mustangs a berth in next week’s regional tournament — one win away from reaching the Class 4A State Tournament.
"The semifinal concerns me the most," Quattlebaum said. "If you can (win) and get a 1 or 2 seed, that’s pretty good, but if you (lose and) get a 3 or 4, you’ll have a pretty tough draw in the regional. So that semifinal game is a big one.
"But we’ve beaten everybody twice. It’s hard to beat a team three times, but it also gives you confidence going in that you can do it. Maybe it puts a little doubt in their mind that they can do it. We’re in pretty good shape."
Against Arkadelphia last week, CAC raced out to a 22-10 first-quarter lead. The Badgers cut that to 31-24 by halftime, but the Mustangs held on for the nine-point win. Josh Holland’s 17 points led CAC. Travis Byrne added 16.
"He’s really been playing well for us lately," Quattlebaum said of Byrne.
On Senior Night against Ashdown, Holland and fellow senior Dylan Sherrill combined for 41 points (21 for Sherrill; 20 for Holland). CAC built a 20-13 lead after one quarter and extended it to 37-21 at intermission.
Regardless of Thursday’s results, CAC will play Saturday. The third-place game is set for 5:20 p.m., the championship for 8. All four teams will advance to the regional at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia Feb. 20-23. The top four from there will move on to the Class 4A State Tournament at Cave City.
Quattlebaum, who will give up his duties with the boys next year to concentrate on the Lady Mustangs, said he didn’t anticipate any problems with motivation in the post-season.
"This bunch gets ready to play pretty good," he said. "They’re pretty self-motivated. They really wanted to go out with an undefeated conference championship. Senior Night meant a lot to them. For three years, they’ve been a big part of the program. I don’t have to say much to them; they’re pretty determined to finish the season well."