Central Arkansas Christian’s Lady Mustangs learned a hard lesson in their 2014 opener at Nashville last week.
Luckily, it didn’t cost them much except pride.
CAC was blanked in the first quarter and scored just 10 points in the first half, but Steve Quattlebaum’s team survived for a 35-30 win in 7-4A conference play.
"It was one of the most frustrating nights of my life," said Quattlebaum, the legendary coach who has led the Mustang Mountain program to three state championships. "I don’t think I’ve ever — even my terrible teams, I don’t think, got shut out in the first quarter. That was bad.
"We just did not play well. (Nashville) did a good job, had a good game plan. They slowed the pace down a little bit. We needed to press but we couldn’t get in our press because we couldn’t score. We had 10 points at halftime, and that’s probably a record, too.
"Every terrible thing you can do in a game — we did every one of them, just about. I hope they got it out of their system. But they were determined to come back and redeem themselves, and they did."
The Lady Mustangs scored 19 in the first quarter against Pulaski Robinson on Friday en route to a 55-31 victory that improved them to 11-2 overall and 3-0 in conference play.
At Nashville, the Lady Scrappers weren’t able to take much advantage of CAC’s cold start. Nashville led after one quarter, 8-0, and at halftime, 16-10, but the Lady Mustangs rallied to take a 17-16 lead nearly halfway through the third period. Still, they had to hunker down for the win, breaking a 26-all tie with just 41 seconds left. Sydnie Jones hit for two of her 12 points, 28-26, and Falan Miller’s free throw made it a three-point lead. Sarah Butler dropped six from the foul line in the final 30 seconds to secure the win.
Jones added nine rebounds. Butler scored nine points. Nashville’s Kassidy Snowden was the leading scorer with 18 points, 14 of which came in the first half.
Nashville dropped to 9-4 and 0-2.
"We got off to a bad start; they played really hard and really well and we didn’t, and we were lucky to win," Quattlebaum said.
He said the long, winding trip to Howard County as well as the return to a routine from the holiday break probably had something to do with the poor performance — but not all.
"We were probably thinking we’re a little better than what we are," he said Sunday. "We just didn’t play very well, and we can’t afford to do that."
He had hoped to be able to rest Miller, who is nursing an ankle injury, and Sarah Butler, who has a bum thumb, but those plans went awry.
"Miller ended up having to play the whole game, and we wouldn’t have won without her," the coach said. "That slowed her recovery, I’m sure."
Still, the Lady Mustangs looked more like themselves against Robinson as Jones played perhaps her most balanced game of the year. She recorded 26 points, 18 rebounds, four blocks and two assists, with a first quarter that included 11 points and eight rebounds and erased the bad memories of the first quarter at Nashville.
CAC scored 19 in this opening period.
"I was pretty proud of them even though we didn’t play just great, but we played really hard and our defense was a lot better," Quattlebaum said. "But we did have 24 turnovers, which is way too many. We’re not making good decisions right now."
Miller added 12 points, two rebounds and two steals.
"Sydnie rebounded really well," Quattlebaum said. "We dominated the boards, and that was big. Falan was still struggling a little bit with her bad ankle, and that’s affected her offensively the last couple of games. But she seems to be getting a little better."
CAC, which played Bauxite on Tuesday, will travel to Arkadelphia on Friday and play host to Ashdown on Tuesday, Jan. 21.
"Arkadelphia has won a couple in a row," Quattlebaum said Sunday. "They beat (Arkansas) Baptist the other night and they beat Nashville. They’ve got three starters back from last year and they’re well coached."
He said after seeing every conference team except Ashdown, he thought Robinson was probably behind Malvern and CAC with Bauxite, Nashville, Ashdown and Arkadelphia to vie for the fourth post-season berth.
"I hope we can stay in the second spot, at least," he said. "We’re getting there. We’ve just got to get a little better with our half-court offense. Our defense is coming around, but we’ve got to get a little better."