It is the time of the year when the regular season comes to an end, and teams are looking to enter post-season play with momentum from a strong finish to the season. This past week, the Paris Lady Eagles have won their last two conference games, including a win last night over Perryville, to enter next week’s district tournament on a two-game win streak. The Lady Eagles finished the season in fourth place in the conference and will enter the district tournament as a four seed. By finishing fourth, Paris avoids playing on Monday night and will get an extra day of rest before tournament play begins for the Lady Eagles on Tuesday in Lamar. The Lady Eagles defeated Perryville 56-44, avenging a previous 26-point loss to the Lady Mustangs on December 13.
Lady Eagles coach Dustin Williams said after the game, “It was back and forth for the first three quarters, but our team was able to break away in the fourth, outscoring Perryville 19-6. I thought our defensive intensity, toughness on the boards and the ability to match up late in the game really helped. We spent a lot of time the past two days going over their sets and our girls were able to call them out and shift while it was happening. Our transition game was there and that really helped put it away. I think we are getting hot at the right time heading into Tuesday (first district tournament game).
For Paris, Jadyn Hart was the leading scorer with 18 points. Harley Watts had 17 points for Paris, and Brailey Forst added 7 points. Rounding out the scoring for the Lady Eagles was Jayden Wells with 5 points and Karsyn Tencleve with one point.
After Friday night’s games, the final girls conference standings are:
Two Rivers 5-9
Fountain Lake 2-12
In conference play this year, it was Lamar and the rest of the league. The Lady Warriors finished a perfect, undefeated conference season. A tie for second between Perryville and Jessieville was a distant five games behind first place Lamar. In fact, at 7-7, one can look back to a one point, upset loss at home to Booneville who had previously won just two conference games, and a road loss late in the season at Jessieville when the Lady Eagles were tagged with deep foul trouble to the extent that they finished the last five minutes of the game with just four players on the court. Even under such extreme circumstances, the Lady Eagles narrowly lost to Jessieville. So, in the could of, would of category, if the Lady Eagles had those two games back, the Paris team that started the season with very little varsity basketball experience would have finished this year in a tie for second place in the conference. Overall, the Lady Eagles tooks some early season losses as the team searched for the right chemistry and gained varsity experience with every game. I know Coach Williams would love to have some of those games back now that his team has improved so much since the start of the season in November. Much is owed to senior Paiton Forbis who brought her volleyball championship experience and work ethic to the team and locker room this year. The Lady Eagles were a very young team this year, and Forbis’s contributions cannot be overlooked. She is an outstanding person and athlete, and the Lady Eagles were fortunate to have her play this year.
The Lady Eagles are a team that has performed well, and coach Dustin Williams and his staff deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the team’s performance this season that was far and beyond what several people silently expected for this team. In fact, if you have followed my column this year, I have made the case for Dustin Williams to be considered for Coach of the Year honors in the conference. Unfortunately, conferences tend to automatically give the honor to the coach of a team that wins the conference. I have never agreed with this, as it does not leave room for a coach of a team to be considered when he or she has led a team with low expectations from coaches and sports writers to finish high in the conference standings. There is no room for “Cinderella” who crashes the party with a team that is not expected to do well. But, for whatever it is worth, Dustin Williams is my coach of the year, and I think there are many Paris fans who share my opinion.
Paris has a legitimate chance to win games in the district tournament and advance to the regional tournament. Quite a feat for this team. And now Paris is playing with an expanded roster that will give the Lady Eagles much-needed depth as they enter the tournament to keep themselves out of a potential Jessieville situation when foul trouble became a major factor in the Lady Eagles’ chance to win the game.
The Lady Eagles will play Tuesday afternoon in the second round of the district tournament at 4 p.m. at Lamar High School. Paris will play the winner of the play-in game between the #8 seed Fountain Lake Lady Cobras and the #5 seed Atkins Lady Red Devils. Paris had success against both teams during the regular season. The first game in the tournament is always the toughest as players have to adjust to the pressure of a “one and done” tournament where every game can be your last. No player wants to experience the suddenness of losing that last game, and cleaning out your locker for the last time this season. And certainly, once the tournament starts, anything can happen. But Paris has fought hard all year, and has faced adversity all season. They are battle-tested. and regardless of the outcome on Tuesday, the one thing that is assured is this team will play their hearts out for the entire game.
For the Eagles, the 2019-20 season has been an uphill struggle all year. Like their Lady Eagles counterparts, the boys senior team entered this season as an inexperienced team in varsity basketball. It was also a rebuilding year for the Eagles, and each week, the team played hard and with a determination to win. And each week, the Eagles’ effort would often find themselves in games late, but seem to struggle to find enough offense to close-out close games late with a win. Seniors Nick Bazyck and Luke Trusty provided senior leadership for the team that was instrumental in the team being in games each night. But in the end, in a conference that was loaded with good guard play and experienced rosters, the Eagles found themselves on the short end of games in conference play. No player or person connected to the program wants to hear the word “rebuilding”, especially seniors. But the Eagles young varsity team gained valuable playing experience this season, and now, with the expanded roster including freshman from a junior high team that were runner-ups in the junior high district tournament, the Eagles have more depth, and will give the younger players a chance to get valuable court experience before they are counted on next season.
The expanded rosters on both teams may play a factor in next week’s district tournament. Of course, Paris is not the only school that will move freshman up to their varsity teams now that junior high season is over. And it is a very difficult thing for an upperclassman to see his or her position filled by a freshman. It is a call that coaches make, and each coach will do so using their own logic and justification. But one thing is for sure, all coaches will do whatever they believe will give their teams the best chance to win, and, ultimately, whatever is in the best interest of the players involved. It can be an emotional issue, and I certainly do not envy any coach who makes such a decision.
The Eagles will play on Monday night at 8:30 p.m. in Lamar in the first round of the district tournament. Paris finished the season in seventh place in the conference. So, the Eagles and their fans will have the last game of the night on Monday as Paris will have to win the play-in game to advance to the second round on Tuesday. As of the publication time of this story, the Monday night opponent has not been confirmed, but it is believed that the opponent may be Booneville. When the opponent is confirmed, Resident Press will publish an update for our readers.
The final boys standings in the regular conference season are:
Fountain Lake 12-2
Two Rivers 0-14
It has been an exciting season of Paris basketball as fans watched the development of two young teams throughout the year. Many of the players for both the Eagles and Lady Eagles were either playing just their first or second years of varsity basketball. Much is owed to the seniors on both teams for their leadership and contributions to the rebuilding of the programs and the future of Paris basketball. They deserve the Paris fan base to make the trips to Lamar to support them in the district tournament.
With the players on both teams, there is no telling what may happen in Lamar. They will play hard, and with a few breaks…who knows? Anything can happen in the post-season!