The Mountain View Lady Yellowjackets have been ranked #1 by Max Preps for most of the year, and yesterday, in front of a packed house at Tiger Center in Charleston, Mountain View proved why they have been ranked as high. The Lady Yellowjackets started the game with a 13-0 run in the first quarter and forced Charleston to play catch-up for the entire game. The end result was a nine point victory for Mountain Home and a spot in the championship game next Friday in Hot Springs.
Charleston, playing on less than 24 hours rest after a tough game the night before with Central Arkansas Christian, appeared to start the game sluggishly. Their outside shooters seemed to suffer the worst effects of the short turnaround with shots missing either short or wildley over-shot. But the character of this team that has always been there for the Lady Tigers, was there again on Saturday. Charleston continued to fight through the “fog” all day and made several runs at Mountain View, but just could not quite complete the comeback. The 13-4 deficit at the end of the first quarter proved to be too much for the Lady Tigers.
Tournaments can be both strange and cruel at times. One of the ironies of this year’s tournament was the seeding of the Lady Tigers. In the regional third place game, Charleston defeated Rose Bud decidedly to earn the third seed. Had Charleston lost that game and gone into the state tournament as a four seed, the pathway would have actually been more favorable to Charleston, especially considering they would have played their quarterfinal game on Thursday and would have had Friday off before the semifinal game. It is very difficult for a team to turn around in less than 24 hours and play a championship game. The NCAA tournament is structured to give all teams at all points in the bracket at least 48 hours rest. My job is not to make excuses for Charleston; they do not need me to make excuses for them. And I certainly do not want to take anything away from Mountain View. The Lady Jackets are a great team and they are my pick to win next Friday. But, the rest issue is a factor I think the Arkansas Activities Association needs to look at for future tournaments. The finals are not going to be played for another six days after the semis, so, there was ample time to give all four semifinal matches the same amount of rest. In my advancing age, I especially will not be happy to hear the Activities Association give a bureaucratic answer to why this cannot be done. I want them to explain it to the Charleston seniors who played their last game under conditions that I deem to have been fundamentally unfair.
Charleston started the game with seemingly a lot of energy. That may contradict the ‘soap box” rant that I just went on, but, I am sure they entered the game with a lot of adrenaline to be playing in the semifinal at home. Adrenaline is short lived, and that was the case with Charleston. By contrast, Mountain View looked like a well rested, confident, and skilled team that entered the game with a defensive strategy of placing big low post players down low to stop the cutting and penetrating Lady Tiger guards to the basket. The strategy worked well, forcing Charleston to shoot outside, or force one shot inside against their large low post players. The result was the inability for Charleston to score, and also not being able to apply their pressure defense due to fouls being called closely, or, with the Lady Tigers having to take chances on defense to create turnovers to score and get back into the game.
Mountain View played like champions yesterday. They have outstanding guard play and great physical presence inside. They are extremely well-coached and they were mentally prepared yesterday for the large, partisan crowd in Charleston.
Charleston went into the half down 11 points. Most teams, down double-digits in the first half, want to reduce the lead inside ten points by the half to position themselves to be able to make a run in the second half and be within range to win the game. The Lady Tigers played hard and just could not quite make up the deficit. When the halftime buzzer sounded, Charleston would have to go to the locker room and regroup and find a way to score against the tough Mountain View defense.
The second half was not any easier for Charleston. The Lady Tigers would score a few points, but Mountain View would always answer. In fact, with 3:51 remaining in the game, Mountain View had a 19 point lead. But again, in true testament to the character of the Lady Tigers, the team continue to fight, refusing to give up. Behind the three point shooting of Baylee King, Charleston reduced the 19 point lead to just nine points with just a little more than 2 minutes to play in the game. But running out of “gas”, and expending a lot of energy to make the run, the Lady Tigers could not reduce the lead any further, and the final score was 67-58. A huge effort by the Lady Tigers that fell short, but one that I will never forget. A team with terrific heart and character; they are truly special.
It was an emotionally-charged moment with Coach Jason Rucker began to sub for his senior starters for the last time. Among all of the emotion, seniors Alexi Grandison, and his daughter Payton, were very emotional. Words cannot describe the moment. I thought about my first interview this season with Coach Rucker, and among the excitement he had for the upcoming season, he also added that he was dreading the year because he was about to say good-bye to a large group of seniors that he had coached in Charleston for many years, dating back to youth travel teams at early ages. He said he was dreading having to say good-bye to such a special group. Yesterday became that day, and if it did not bring a tear to your eye, then nothing will.
Most of our readers know that I am not from the Charleston community. But for the past seven months, I have had the pleasure of covering sports at Charleston High School. In doing so, I have met many wonderful people, both inside and outside of the school district. This year’s Lady Tigers basketball team may be the most special group of young adults that I have ever had the privilege to meet. Parents, you deserve a lot of credit for raising such great daughters. We all wanted them to end their high school careers with a state championship, but in the end, they have won the greatest title of all, that of being good students, good people, and possessors of great character and perseverance. Yes, it was my privilege to cover their season, I extend my most heart-felt congratulations to this team, the coaches, and everyone connected to them.
But my job as a reporter did not end with the Charleston semifinal game. I admittedly had allowed myself to connect with Charleston and pull for their victories. But my job went on, and I want to share with you the results of the other semifinal games played yesterday.
In boys bracket play, the Rivercrest Colts defeated the Dumas Bobcats by the score of 84-63. Rivercrest has been the most dominant team in the boys bracket, and they are my pick to win a state championship. Rivercrest will play Osceola on Friday, March 13, at 1:45 p.m. at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs. The Seminoles defeated Mayflower 51-44 to set up the state championship with their neighbor who is located just a few miles down I-55 from Osceola. The rivalry game for the state championship should make for an exciting atmosphere in Hot Springs on Friday.
In the second girls semifinal of the day, the Valley Springs Lady Tigers hung on for a 46-43 victory over the Mayflower Lady Eagles. Valley Springs will play Mountain View on Friday, March 13 at 12 Noon at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs for the championship.
So, after five days of outstanding high school basketball at Tiger Center, it is time to give all of the teams a standing ovation and our most sincere thanks for a great basketball season. Resident Press will have coverage of the Class 3A state final games in Hot Springs in its edition on Saturday, March 14.
One last comment on the state tournament. As you know, the Charleston School District hosted the five-day tournament. Many of the district employees, coaches, administrators, parents, and community patrons and businesses supported the event. The tournament was one of the best-ran tournaments I have ever seen, and I want all of our readers to know that, especially for a small school district, state tournaments are not easy to host. If you attended any of the games, the end product that you saw was the result of many months of planning and organization that took place before the five-day marathon that was supported by so many people. Charleston provided first class hospitality that was presented by so many employees and volunteers who had great attitudes and worked hard to make sure that each team and their fans felt at home. Everyone in the Charleston community can feel proud of the job your school and community did in the hosting of schools from all over the state. And, thanks to everyone in the district that has made me feel at home and has provided Resident Press the access to bring Charleston sports coverage to our readers!
Thanks to all of you for reading RP, and once again, congratulations to the Charleston Lady Tigers for an outstanding season!