CABOT — I’d made it about 15 miles down I-49 on Wednesday morning when it hit me — I’d left my laptop at home.
My first thought as I took the West Fork exit and turned back around: I’m not going to make it to Cabot by the time the first game of the 7A state tournament tips off.
My second thought, immediately after: This seems like a terrible omen for how the rest of the week is going to go.
Thankfully, both were wrong. GoogleMaps had me arriving at Panther Arena two minutes after the Cabot and Springdale game tipped, but I somehow (haha) managed to make it with more than 20 minutes to spare.
And the next four days were simply incredible.
Of the 20 games, 16 were still in doubt in the final minute. Three went to overtime, including both boys semifinals matchups. Bentonville’s Malik Monk and Van Buren’s Mitchell Smith combined for 67, with Monk hitting a step-back, fadeaway 3-pointer in OT to punch the ticket. It couldn’t have been scripted better. And one of the girls semfinals pitted No. 1 Conway against No. 2 Central and ended with Conway rallying from a 16-point deficit and winning on a Hailey Estes 3-pointer with less 15 seconds left.
The four days were great. Cabot was a great host.
Here are my takeaways from the weekend, my thoughts and observations about most of the teams, standout players and the tournament in general.
BENTONVILLE: I wrote for Sunday that Monk was Superman for Bentonville and it’s the truth. He scored 23 of his 33 after halftime and his 3-pointer to put the Tigers ahead for good with 1:13 left in OT was, in his words, the biggest shot of his life. He was the main attraction in Cabot and put on a show in both games.
Thursday night’s game against West Memphis drew the biggest crowd of the tournament, by far, a standing-room only throng that included Kentucky coach John Calipari. Monk gave the crowd a show, finishing several highlight-reel dunks and warding off a solid West Memphis team.
Monk raised his level of play in the second half and OT against Van Buren, but the Tigers wouldn’t be headed to Hot Springs without junior guard Jordan Hemphill. He scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half or overtime, repeatedly attacking the basket and either finishing (two and-1s in the fourth quarter) or drawing fouls (he drew Smith’s fifth foul in OT). Bentonville has a few players capable of stepping up to support Monk, including senior Tyler Robinson and sophomore Asa Hutchinson. But Hemphill was the one who did it in Cabot, including scoring 10 against West Memphis in another close win. Plus, he was very classy in the postgame press conference after the Van Buren win, shaking each writer’s hand and thanking them. I’d never seen that before.
Bentonville has to be feeling good about its chances, especially now that its kryptonite, Fayetteville (which had won the last five meetings), isn’t in the picture anymore. It took two loaded North Little Rock teams to knock Monk and the Tigers out of tournament the last two years. I’d expect his final high school game in the state will be one to remember Friday.
CABOT: The host team was solid and didn’t wind up having to go through Fayetteville, which it beat by two in December, to make the title game.
The Panthers hit big shot after big shot in both games and played tough, physical defense all weekend. They showed grit in rallying from a double-digit halftime deficit against Springdale in the quarterfinals, using their defense to change the game and take the lead, then closing it out with some timely baskets.
Bobby Joe Duncan made more than a few big plays, Hunter Southerland hit the shot that put the Panthers up for good against Bryant in the semifinals and Logan Gilbertson had big shots in both games — a clinching layup off a Duncan steal against Springdale and then 3-pointers at the buzzer in the second and third quarters against Bryant.
The Panthers will be the underdogs against Monk and Bentonville. They don’t have the firepower to match the Tigers. But they do have the defensive mindset needed to make it a game. And if they can do that, they’ve proven they can make plays when it counts.
VAN BUREN: It’s a shame Van Buren and Bentonville can’t just play again for the state title. Their semifinal matchup was the best game in the tournament. Bentonville didn’t have an answer for Smith, who scored 34 before fouling out on a highly questionable call. He has a ton of potential as he now heads to Missouri because of his combination of height and length, athleticism, skill and coachability. Would’ve been interesting to see how the game played out if he hadn’t fouled out. The Pointers did so much right in the game (playing zone, force-feeding Smith), but still came up just short. Van Buren lost Jaylynn Dye, its other playmaker, when he intentionally fouled Monk in the final minute of OT. Someone else needed to take that foul. Dye can create a shot for himself or his teammates and losing him basically ended the Pointers’ hopes.
You’ve got to feel for Beau Beckner, who had a chance to end the game in regulation but missed a layup. He’s been a key cog all year and was great in the Pointers’ overtime win over Northside in the quarterfinals, scoring a team-high 27 and stepping up when Smith fouled out in that overtime game. Just a tough break in the closing seconds of regulation in the semifinals. He’s a junior and may be Van Buren’s best player next season.
The Pointers had a great year, one that was obviously led by Smith and Dye, but one that included big contributions from players like Beckner and Jordan Barlow, who had the game-clinching block against Northside. Van Buren was one of the three best teams in 7A this year.
BRYANT: Monk is easily the most fun player to watch in the state, but Bryant was the most fun team at the state tournament, hands down. The Hornets played up-tempo, beat teams with their athleticism and got hot from 3-point range, ingredients that led to them pulling the biggest upset of the tournament — a 65-56 win over No. 1 Fayetteville in the quarterfinals. Bryant hit an unreal 11 of 17 3-pointers in the win, including four from Calvin Allen, three from Romen Martin and three from Kevin Hunt. That trio was great all weekend. They scored 33 of Bryant’s 47 in its three-point overtime loss to Cabot in the semifinals and keyed a quick 8-0 run to end regulation and fittingly send the final game of the tournament into overtime. In the end, the Hornets put together a mercy rule win over Rogers Heritage, an impressive upset against No. 1 Fayetteville and took host Cabot to overtime in the semifinals. Great weekend, by all accounts.
Bryant would have been a really fun team to watch go up against Monk and Bentonville, if it had carried over its hot shooting. Allen and Martin are both juniors and will undoubtedly be a dynamic duo to watch again next year.
FAYETTEVILLE: Almost everyone not in Bentonville, myself included, had Fayetteville penciled in to win the state title. The Bulldogs were 24-3 in the regular season and had beaten Bentonville, the other top contender, five straight times. Everyone was counting on one more Malik Monk-Payton Willis showdown.
But then they ran into the Bryant buzzsaw. Fayetteville was done in by Bryant’s unconscious shooting and its own untimely offensive drought. The Bulldogs led 43-32 midway through the third quarter and appeared to be in cruise control, but the Hornets blitzed them with a 25-4 run that included a flurry of Bryant 3-pointers on one end and iffy shot selection that led to no Fayetteville baskets for nine-plus minutes on the other, resulting in a stunning double-digit lead the favorite couldn’t erase.
It was a disappointing way to end the season, for sure, but Fayetteville still had a memorable year. There’s a reason most thought the Bulldogs were going to win the state title. They were fantastic from November through February. Willis is the second-best player in the state while Josh Breathitt, August Carlson, Spencer Brown, Demaunte Youngblood, Drake Wymer, Tyler Roth and John Barnes were a supporting cast that would’ve been good enough to at least earn a first-round bye even without the Vanderbilt signee. Together, they were a complete and imposing team.
The Bulldogs were loaded and had a great season. They just ran into a hot team and had a bad half at the wrong time.
SPRINGDALE: The Bulldogs had to be feeling a bit sick when they saw Cabot won to advance to Hot Springs. That could’ve easily been Springdale, if the Bulldogs had completed their quarterfinal win over the host team.
Springdale outscored Cabot 46-31 in three of the quarters during that matchup, but lost a double-digit halftime lead and all the momentum in a turnover-filled third quarter that Cabot won 24-5, allowing it to take a lead it never relinquished. The Bulldogs didn’t match up well at all with Fayetteville, but Bryant’s upset created a plausible avenue to a second title-game appearance in three years. But it wasn’t meant to be.
Still, Jeremy Price is the NWADG’s likely coach of the year after doing a fantastic job in his first season at the helm. The Bulldogs surprised a ton of people, myself included. By late December, it was clear Price had molded the Bulldogs into a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Ishine McFarlane became one of the best inside-out threats in the conference. Jack Lindsey hit clutch shot after clutch shot, while Kyler Mahar led the team in fourth-quarter scoring. Towayne Bobo provided energy and athleticism off the bench and had one of his best games against Cabot. David Carachure, Devon Young and Khaleel Rose all had big moments in the backcourt.
All those players are seniors. Price will have to effectively start from scratch next year. But after this season, it’s apparent the Bulldogs have the right coach for the future.
FORT SMITH NORTHSIDE: Tevin Brewer became a legend in Cabot. The 5-foot-7 junior guard turned in the individual performance of the tournament during an overtime loss to Van Buren in a classic quarterfinal matchup, scoring 42 and hitting six 3-pointers, including a few from around 30 feet. It was a mesmerizing showcase of talent that left the crowd still talking about him the rest of the weekend, even after the Grizzlies had packed up and headed home.
Northside had an up-and-down year, but, in the end, the Grizzlies came within a few shots of a semifinals appearance, a solid result for a team that will bring back what is likely one of the three best backcourts in 7A next year. Between Brewer, smooth sophomore Isaiah Joe and athletic junior Tre Norwood, the Grizzlies have a playmaking core that will be a problem for teams next year. Add in junior Brennon Lewis and Northside has to be considered the favorite to win the 7A-Central next season.
Of course, the main reason for optimism is Brewer. He played like a mix between Allen Iverson and Steph Curry against Van Buren. That wasn’t the first time he’s put on a show. And it won’t be the last.
SPRINGDALE HAR-BER: The Wildcats will also potentially have a top-three backcourt next year, along with Northside and Bryant. It was a bit of an odd season for Har-Ber. It had to adjust on the fly to losing senior J.P. Brandon, one of the best bigs in the conference, to a shoulder injury. And the Wildcats relied heavily on young guards, which produced a myriad of results, from upsetting Fayetteville on the road to losing three straight to end the season.
Avery Benson may be the best player in the 7A-West next year. The junior guard scored 20 in the Wildcats’ first-round loss to West Memphis, including eight in the last two minutes as he tried to will Har-Ber to a win.
The two Tylers, sophomore Tyler Garrett and freshman Tylor Perry, give Har-Ber a backcourt trio that will be able to go toe-to-toe with anyone. Garrett is a very good all-around player, while Perry has great shot-making ability and made a number of key plays this year that were even more impressive given his age. Junior 6-foot-7 center Zane King showed flashes of potential against West Memphis and junior guard Matthew Kaunitz was one of the best shooters in the 7A-West all year.
The Wildcats may be poised to be a contender to get to Hot Springs next year.
ROGERS HERITAGE: Much like Fayetteville, Heritage ran into a freight train in facing Bryant in the first round. It became fairly evident in the first half the Hornets were the better team. Still, it was an accomplishment for the War Eagles to make it to Cabot. Entering the final day of the regular season, they needed a number of outcomes to go their way to make the playoffs. And all of them did. They were one of five teams that were pretty much interchangeable from third to seventh in the 7A-West.
Lexus Hobbs was one of the most athletic, exciting to watch players in the conference and the driving force behind the War Eagles for much of the last two years. His playmaking ability always gave Heritage a shot. Fellow seniors Dane Olsen and Marcus Breedlove had big moments during the season.
Losing quality seniors is tough for any program to deal with, but versatile 6-foot-6 sophomore Seth Stanley has a lot of potential, as does fellow sophomore Tony Casey. The War Eagles are in good hands under coach Tom Olsen.
CONWAY: Whew. What a semifinals comeback by the Lady Wampus Cats to extend their season and earn a trip to Hot Springs. Late in the first quarter, Conway trailed Little Rock Central 18-5 and appeared to be completely outclassed. Midway through the second, it was 26-10 and the team still looked exasperated and out of rhythm. But then it clicked.
Alexis Tolefree is arguably the best player in the state and assuredly one of the top four. She came alive in the second half, scoring 14 of her 21 after intermission as Conway slowly but surely whittled away at its deficit.
But it wasn’t just Tolefree. Junior Savannah Lowe knocked down a huge 3-pointer to finally tie the game at 50 in the final minutes, then senior Hailey Estes, who had a potentially game-saving block in the quarterfinals against Cabot, drained the go-ahead 3-pointer with less than 15 seconds left.
Conway is 30-1, ranked No. 1 and playing North Little Rock for the state title, a team it’s already beaten twice this year. But the Lady Wampus Cats had anything but an easy road to get to the title game. They had to face the host team in their first game. Survived and advanced. Then they had to play a loaded Central team and rally from a deficit most in the gym figured insurmountable. They managed to do it.
Tolefree is incredible. Simply put, she’s a playmaker. Defenders can’t give her any air space because she’ll get a look she’s able to knock down anywhere inside 25 feet. But then she blows by defenders and forces the rest of the defense to react. Junior Fut’ra Banks deserves a lot of credit for battling Central’s multiple talented bigs all game. Conway did a great job of team rebounding on the defensive glass, for the most part.
The Lady Wampus Cats entered the tournament as the favorite, but have thrived in what has essentially been an underdog role in both wins. Now they’re playing in their third straight title game and are a win away from their second championship in three years.
NORTH LITTLE ROCK: Tolefree makes Conway go. NLR guard Kyra Collier does the same for her team. She was a force in the semifinals against Northside, breaking the game open by scoring the Lady Charging Wildcats’ first nine points of the third quarter as they turned a close game into a second-half rout and a 63-45 win.
Collier had 27 points, 12 rebounds and four steals against the Lady Bears and was a disruptive presence on both ends of the court. She finished high-degree-of-difficulty shots with regularity and used her great hands to generate steals and transition points as NLR pulled away.
Yo’Myris Morris is the other player that jumps out on NLR’s team. The 6-foot-2 sophomore is long, athletic and versatile, evidenced by her guarding Texas A&M signee Aahliyah Jackson, another player who can make a claim to being the best in the state, in the Northside game. Jackson finished 4 of 12 from the floor and scored 13. Morris definitely has the look of a high-major prospect.
North Little Rock lost its first two meetings with Conway by a combined 27 points, including an 81-75 loss in December in which Tolefree scored 48. Collier enters the title game on a roll. The Collier-Tolefree battle is reason enough to go see Conway-North Little Rock part three. It should be fantastic.
FORT SMITH NORTHSIDE: What a season for the Lady Bears. Most assumed it would be a bit of a down year, myself included. Should’ve known better than to doubt a Rickey Smith team.
In the end, Northside finished 29-3, a victory shy of becoming the storied program’s first 30-win team, which is remarkable when considering that outside of Jackson and senior Lauren Krissman, the Lady Bears didn’t have much experience coming back. But those two were consistently stellar — Jackson is probably the toughest matchup in the state. And others stepped up, maybe best exemplified by the first quarter of their semifinal loss to NLR.
In those first eight minutes, juniors Fatarah Kinnard and Maegan Bandimere and senior Jordan Hardesty combined to hit five 3-pointers in a scorching start. All three made big, often under-the-radar contributions throughout the year that led to the Lady Bears winning yet another 7A-West title in their final year in the conference for the foreseeable future.
Jackson, Krissman and Hardesty will all be gone next year. Northside and Smith will have big holes to fill as they move back to the 7A-Central to duke it out with the likes of Conway. But it’s a safe bet that the Lady Bears will be contending. Sophomore 6-foot-1 post Alexis Evans may be the next big Northside prospect. And there will undoubtedly be more. Northside reloads.
LITTLE ROCK CENTRAL: Point blank, Central is the most talented team in the state, top to bottom. The Lady Tigers are absolutely loaded, from 6-foot Arkansas signee Kiara Williams, to ultra-talented 6-3 junior Abigayle Jackson, to the trio of Stephen F. Austin signee Alaysia Ready, Alcorn State signee Alexsis Brown and junior Bre’Amber Scott, three guards Fayetteville coach Vic Rimmer called the best his team had seen this year.
But they won’t be in Hot Springs after losing a 16-point lead and dropping a 57-52 heartbreaker to Conway in a 1-2 semifinal matchup. Central missed four free throws, turned it over and took a difficult deep shot in the final minute against Conway, losing a lead late in shocking fashion.
The ending undermined what had been a dominant performance for three days by Central, which beat Springdale Har-Ber convincingly in the first round and then turned around and mostly dominated Fayetteville in the quarterfinals for a third win over the Lady Bulldogs this year. When it was on, Central’s defense was swarming and overwhelmed opponents. A locked-in Lady Tigers team was a scary sight.
It’ll be tough to replace the graduating Williams, Ready and Brown, but Jackson and Scott are a great duo to build around and Central always has talent in the pipleline.
FAYETTEVILLE: Talk about a tough draw. The Lady Bulldogs earned a No 2 seed and were awarded a first-round bye, only to have to face Central in their first game. Fayetteville was doomed by a poor start and foul trouble, looking overwhelmed in the first half before making it a game in the second.
Central was just a bad matchup. Fayetteville had won 11 straight entering the tournament, beating teams with its athleticism and 3-point shooting. The Lady Bulldogs didn’t shoot well in the quarterfinals and Central had the athleticism advantage. Fayetteville 6-foot-2 sophomore Jasmine Franklin is already the best big in the 7A-West, but was Fayetteville’s only true big to deal with Jackson and Williams. That’s a tough task.
If Fayetteville had been the one seed, it might’ve made the finals. But the Lady Bulldogs still had a great run, coming on strong late in the year for the second straight season. And they did it after losing starter Kylee Coulter to an ACL tear in December.
Fayetteville graduates Pink and Blu Jones, DaShundra Morgan, Haley Ratcliff and Delaney Osbourn, all solid players (both Jones were versatile impact players). But junior Lauren Holmes will again be one of the better guards in the state next year. Franklin is already a force. Grayce Spangler, Ashley Breathitt, Maya Mayberry and a recovered Coulter will all be experienced seniors.
The Lady Bulldogs will be a favorite in the 7A-West again next year.
VAN BUREN: People who follow basketball in Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley already knew about Jamilyn Kinney entering the state tournament. The rest of 7A found out about the dynamic sophomore point guard last week.
Kinney was electric in Van Buren’s two games, putting on a dribbing, passing and shooting clinic and wowing the crowd with her highlight-reel playmaking ability. She sent defenders lurching with crossovers and hesitations, routinely made one-handed passes on the money, could finish tough shots around the rim and step back and knock down 25-footers.
Her play put her in the same class as Conway’s Tolefree, NLR’s Collier, Northside’s Jackson and Central’s Williams. But they’re all seniors. She’s a sophomore.
Kinney scored 20 points and had eight assists in a first-round win over Rogers, then scored 16 of her 22 in the first half against Northside, propelling the Lady Pointers to a 26-22 halftime lead. Northside doubled her in the second half, forcing her to give it up and ultimately winning 54-52. But she left little doubt that she will be a major problem for the 7A-West when Van Buren rejoins the conference next year.
And she’s got some help, too. Junior Lani Snowden scored 12 against Northside and hit a clutch 3-pointer to tie the game late. Junior 5-11 forward Taylar Sutton scored nine in the first-round win against Rogers and is a good piece. The Lady Pointers graduate talented wing Danae Goodwin, but bring back most of the rest of their key pieces.
And they add in a regional runner-up junior high team. And Kinney still has two years left. And the rest of the 7A-West coaches are concerned.
CABOT: The Lady Panthers were scrappy in their two games, clawing back to knock off Springdale in the first round and giving No. 1 Conway a scare in the quarterfinals.
Cabot’s four seniors — Anna Sullivan, Leighton Taylor, Rachel Allgood and Nicole Calhoon — along with junior Josie Vanoss, all played key roles in the Lady Panthers’ impressive two-day stretch.
Their wild fourth-quarter rally to beat Springdale and final-quarter charge to push Conway to the brink showcased the makeup of the veteran, senior-laden team. The Lady Panthers were part of two of the week’s many photo finishes.
SPRINGDALE: The 48-40 first-round loss to host Cabot was a disheartening way for the high school careers of Springdale’s six seniors to end. The Lady Bulldogs led by eight entering the fourth quarter only to be outscored 22-6 over the course of the final eight minutes.
Springdale’s season didn’t end the way the Lady Bulldogs envisioned following a 6-0 start to conference play. The Lady Bulldogs led Northside at halftime of their seventh conference game, but lost it and three more in league play to drop to the No. 3 seed and a matchup with the host team in round one. Springdale dealt with some misfortune, playing without senior Anna Gadison in the Bentonville loss because of a car crash that thankfully wasn’t worse, then facing Cabot without senior post Ryann Goodsell after she turned her ankle in the regular-season finale against Rogers.
The state tournament didn’t go the way it was envisioned for Springdale’s core four of Goodsell, Kiera Lang, Desiree Mack and Chasidee Owens, along with senior transfers Gadison and Maya Hood. But those four cornerstones were the driving force behind Springdale’s resurgence the last three years, culminating in the program’s most wins (17) since 2005 and conference wins (10) since 2003.
The future is bright with several talented underclassmen coming back and an influx of sophomores that includes Marquisha Davis, Owens’ cousin and MVP of the 25-1 George Junior High regional champions, a talented player who actually moved up to varsity and played in the Cabot game. But the groundwork for any future success was laid by the core four.
BENTONVILLE: If Vegas had odds for state tournament games, Bentonville would’ve been heavily favored to beat a Bryant team that entered the first round with a losing record. But the Lady Tigers were upset, ending their season and the careers of senior standouts Madison Brittain, Maren Johnston, Alexia Hernandez and Baylee Byford in surprising fashion. That quartet was a large part of the reason for a better-than-expected season for the Lady Tigers.
Hernandez provided leadership, defense and hustle. Byford was a shooter. Brittain and Johnston were part of the Lady Tigers’ talented trio that included junior point guard Lauren Hargus, a trio that led the way as Bentonville exceeded expectations and won 20 games. It’ll be tough to replace Brittain’s scoring and savvy along with the work Johnston did in the paint, but Hargus emerged as one of the 7A-West’s best guards during the latter stages of the season and could be one of the best players overall as a senior next season.
Her playmaking and scoring ability figure to make Bentonville solid again next year, especially if the supporting cast around her steps up their games.
ROGERS: The Lady Mounties fell behind early against Van Buren and could never make up the ground in a 47-36 first-round exit. But the future is bright. Forward Samantha Brown was the only senior on the roster for a young Lady Mounties team that gave several of the top teams in the 7A-West issues this year.
While Brown was a key player, there will be plenty of talent coming back, led by 5-foot-10 juniors Elise Randels and Madison Sandor, a new Central Missouri commit. Randels is versatile and has the potential to be a top-five player in the conference next season. Sandor is a presence in the paint and can also knock down 3-pointers.
The ceiling is high for Rogers next year. The Lady Mounties were a solid team but not a true contender in the 7A-West this season. That could definitely change next year.
SPRINGDALE HAR-BER: Copy and paste the misfortune Fayetteville had in drawing Central in the second round and apply it to the Lady Wildcats in the first. Last week marked the second time in three years Har-Ber has drawn the Lady Tigers in the first round, a daunting matchup that has resulted in two early exits. Central took control early in Thursday’s matchup and cruised to a win.
The good news is Har-Ber brings back basically its entire team. The Lady Wildcats were the youngest team in the 7A-West this year and finished fifth while hanging with several of the heavy hitters that finished above them.
Jacie Higgins is a tough matchup. Not many teams have a 5-foot-11 point guard with the versatility she possesses. She’ll again be one of the best players in the conference. Sophomore guards Savanna Collins, Maci Mains and Krislyn Smith all had big moments. Collins played as a freshman and has a good feel for the game with the ability to get hot outside. Mains came on as a knockdown shooter that put up some big performances. Smith impressed in the first-round matchup when she didn’t shy away from Central at all, scoring a team-high 11.
The junior post trio of Karrington Whaley and Precious and Peanut Brown can be a big advantage for Har-Ber and give the Lady Wildcats maybe the best frontcourt in the conference, if they can put it all together and play up to their potential.
Fayetteville, Van Buren, Har-Ber and potentially Rogers should all be in the thick of the conference race next season.
RANDOM STATE TOURNAMENT OBSERVATIONS
- Cabot was a great host. Panther Arena is first-class and as good as any high school gym in the state. Games ran very smoothly and everyone from Cabot was really helpful. Hospitality food was great and there were a ton of options that were regularly updated. I wouldn’t mind it at all if the tournament revisited in the near future. Conway is still my favorite state tournament host, barely. It gets the edge for providing complete box scores (with shooting/rebounding stats) and its stadium music playlist. But Cabot was seriously great in every aspect and a great backdrop for a wild weekend.
- Cabot had a huge edge on every other tournament in media relations thanks to Maggie Waymack Cope. She sat with the media on press row and was an immense help all week long, setting up post-game press conferences, providing copies of the scorebook and doing anything she could to help at a moment’s notice. Wonderful job done by her.
- Heritage was the only school from Northwest Arkansas to bring an actual student section of more than a handful of people the entire tournament. They had 12-20 people in theirs. Obviously school was in session for a lot of games, but overall it was a fairly disappointing turnout, especially compared to two years ago in Conway, when there were some very big showings by NWA schools.
- The Cabot fans showed up in droves. Their student section was really good, as expected. And even aside from Panther games, the majority of fans were probably from Cabot in most sessions and they were active participants in the games. A few that sat behind press row were hilarious.
- The 7A state tournament is my favorite event to cover every year, beating out LPGA golf in June, Razorback football games and all the other stuff I cover. This was the most memorable one I’ve witnessed so far. Incredible game after incredible game. Some wild finishes. All you could ask for in a state tournament. I’m planning on posting the top-five games after the championship games in Hot Springs this weekend, but there’s a really strong chance neither of those make the cut. The four-day run in Cabot was that special.