Fresh off one of the biggest wins of Steve Quattlebaum’s coaching career, Central Arkansas Christian’s Mustangs will enter the Class 4A State Tournament at Cave City this week on a 19-game winning streak.
CAC, which has a bye to Friday’s quarterfinals, swept through the 7-4A with a 16-0 mark, won the district tournament and, last week, claimed the South Regional title at Ouachita Baptist University, knocking off Monticello, the top-ranked team in the state, 44-34, in the regional final.
"That’s a team we probably shouldn’t have been within 20 points of," said Quattlebaum, who will give up his boys coaching duties after this season to again concentrate on the Lady Mustangs. "We were down four at halftime and held them to 14 points in the second half. They were awesome."
So how did the Mustangs pull the upset?
"I don’t really know," Quattlebaum said Sunday. "They just played really hard, were very selective with their shots, cut down on turnovers and played great on defense."
Earlier in the regional, the Billies (26-3) led Nashville, 33-1, yet the Mustangs held them to just 34 points in their game.
"We just slowed the pace down," Quattlebaum said. "They were 6-7, 6-4 and 6-4 and we’re out there at 5-10. It was big, a big win.
"I’d watched them play Star City the night before, and I thought, ‘There’s no team in our conference that could come within 20 points of them. But we got up early, had a slow second quarter and got behind 20-16 at the half. But we were up five going into the fourth quarter."
The Mustangs outscored the Billies in the fourth quarter, 13-4, sinking six of eight free throws in the fourth quarter.
Byrne led the offense with 14 points; Sherrill added nine and Beau Barnes eight.
"Logan Stafford hit two big 3s in the second half at crucial times, and we ended up holding our own on the boards, although they’re a lot bigger," Quattlebaum said. "Beau Barnes got nine rebounds — the littlest guy on the floor. We took care of the ball.
"I told the guys I’ve won three state championships, but I’m not sure that’s not the best win I’ve had in coaching. Nobody really gave them much of a chance. It was a big win. We couldn’t have played a better game."
In the state quarterfinals, CAC (26-5) will meet the winner of Wednesday’s first-round game between Pocahontas-Lincoln. The quarterfinal winner will move on to Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. semifinal.
"Dollarway is very athletic," Quattlebaum said Monday. "Pocahontas and Booneville, I don’t know a whole lot about, but we will by Friday."
Should the Mustangs win their quarterfinal, Monticello would likely be waiting in the semis while Maumelle could be in the finals, Quattlebaum said.
"Monticello’s the best team I’ve seen this year, and Maumelle is athletic and beat us pretty good early," he said. "But we’re a lot better now than we were then. It will be tough to beat Monticello again. I’d like for somebody to upset them, but we can’t count on that. But we beat them once, and that gives us confidence."
All state championship games will be at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock March 7-9. The schedule will be announced on Sunday. Check www.MaumelleMonitor.com then for that schedule.
CAC beat Hamburg in the first round of the regional, 60-46. The Mustangs led by 23-19 at halftime and by 39-30 entering the fourth quarter, and they made 11 of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter — 14 of 15 for the game. Josh Holland and Travis Byrne scored 18 apiece to lead CAC; Logan Stafford and Dylan Sherrill added nine and eight, respectively.
In the semifinals, the Mustangs dumped Malvern for the fifth time this season, 48-43, but Quattlebaum said he sweated the outcome a bit at the end.
"We were up one with eight or nine seconds left, and Malvern had the ball," he said. "Logan Stafford made a big defensive play and got a steal; we ended up getting the basket."
CAC had led by 30-20 at the break.
"It was a little too close," he said. "We made a defensive change and went to a box-and-one, which we hadn’t done all year. We got a steal and it worked out pretty good."
Dylan Sherrill’s 21 points led CAC, which built a 21-9 lead after one quarter. Josh Holland added 12.