By Donna Lampkin Stephens
Central Arkansas Christian’s Lady Mustangs put their 9-2 record on the line Tuesday when they opened 7-4A conference play at Nashville.
After finishing runner-up to Hot Springs in the holiday Spa City Classic in Hot Springs, Steve Quattlebaum’s Lady Mustangs will now settle into the twice-a-week conference schedule.
"We just call it a new part of the season, a season on its own," said Quattlebaum, whose team finished runner-up to Malvern, the eventual Class 4A state champion, in the 7-4A last year. "(The conference schedule) will determine seedings for the district tournament, and it can be important for regionals.
"We’ll have two games a week for a few weeks, all pretty big games, so we’ve got to go out and play every night."
Malvern is the conference favorite, but expect CAC, Pulaski Robinson, Bauxite and Nashville to compete for state tournament berths. Coincidentally, the Lady Mustangs have all three of those to start the conference round-robin.
After opening league play at Nashville on Tuesday, the Lady Mustangs will play host to Robinson on Friday and travel to Bauxite on Tuesday, Jan. 14.
"Robinson has been winning a lot of games," Quattlebaum said Sunday. "I think they’re 11-2, 11-1. They’ve got a girl who signed with Memphis and a couple of good young players, so they’ll be a challenge. We played two pretty good games against them last year and didn’t have much trouble, but they’re a little better this year."
The Bauxite game will be the first chance for the Lady Mustangs to avenge a loss in the regional last year that sent them to the state tournament as a fourth seed.
"They’ve got three or four starters back but lost their best player from last year who really made them go," Quattlebaum said of the Lady Miners. "She went to play at Arkansas Tech, and they’re adjusting a little bit now. But they’re well coached and they have a tradition of winning the last two years. They’ll be a challenge for us."
Bauxite finished third in the Class 4A South Regional and fell in the opening round of the state tournament.
The Lady Mustangs started the week a little nicked up. Junior guard Sarah Butler suffered a sprained thumb in the first tournament game at Hot Springs, and senior forward Falan Miller sprained an ankle over the holiday break.
Quattlebaum indicated he would see what his team could do without its usual heavy reliance on those two, although they should be available if needed. He said Butler was wearing a brace, but Miller’s ankle was quite swollen Sunday.
In the Spa City Shootout, CAC beat Little Rock Christian for the second time this season when the Lady Mustangs survived in the semifinals, 70-55. They had won the first time, 61-31.
"It was a little tougher than last time," Quattlebaum said.
But the CAC offense was ready. Miller hit six 3-point shots in the first quarter. Butler added five for the game. The Lady Mustangs hit 13 treys for the game, likely a school record, Quattlebaum said.
"We shot real well the whole game," Quattlebaum said. "Our defense wasn’t quite as good as I would’ve liked, though. We never could really put them away."
Miller finished with 24 points. Butler added 19 and Sydnie Jones 18, including nine in the final quarter.
The Lady Mustangs had anticipated getting a rematch with Malvern in the championship. The Lady Leopards had won all three meetings last season, but Malvern tripped up against Hot Springs.
Although Quattlebaum said he was a bit surprised, he knew the Lady Trojans were a good team.
"When my bunch was in junior high, they were the only team to beat us when we went 24-1," he said. "We knew they were good. We played them last year. They got ahead of us early. I don’t think we ever led. We got it tied once. They were very patient on offense and took good shots and eventually broke us down on defense. We didn’t have a very good night offensively, but a lot of that was them.
"I thought they played a little harder than we did, especially in the first half."
CAC was also plagued by foul trouble as Jones, the 6-1 junior, had to sit much of the first half. She finished with 10 points; Miller led with 11.
CAC BOYS BASKETBALL |
Central Arkansas Christian’s boys went 0-for-3 in the post-Christmas Spa City Shootout, but a tough non-conference schedule now yields to 7-4A conference play.
Matt Hall’s first Mustang squad stood 2-10 entering Tuesday’s conference opener at Nashville. CAC will continue conference play at home Friday against Pulaski Robinson and at Bauxite on Tuesday, Jan. 14.
CAC, Arkadelphia, Malvern and Nashville advanced to regional play last year, with CAC, Arkadelphia and Malvern moving from the South regional to the Class 4A State Tournament.
At the holiday tournament at Hot Springs’ Summit Arena, the Mustangs fell to Lake Hamilton, 46-31; then lost a couple of heartbreakers in the consolation bracket — to Malvern, 42-39 in overtime, and to Little Rock Christian, 38-35.