SPORTS>>Devils and Bears have difficult first matchups
Leader sports editor
The 6A state tournament begins today in Jonesboro, and several local teams will be taking part. The Jacksonville, Sylvan Hills and Searcy boys, as well as the Searcy girls, are all in the playoffs and vying for a state championship. The matchups are interesting with the new 12-team format. The first round consists of Benton taking on Marion, Searcy versus Watson Chapel, Jacksonville taking on El Dorado and Sylvan Hills facing Lake Hamilton.
As a result of finishing fourth in the 6A-East, the Red Devils drew the South’s No. 5 seed El Dorado. The Wildcats finished fifth, but was the only team in the conference to beat Little Rock Hall this season. That’s an eye-opener for Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner, who believes he will see some pressure from the usually zone-oriented Wildcats. “Their coach was at our Jonesboro game, and he saw how much trouble their pressure gave us,” Joyner said. “I figure he’s going to come out and try to make us make mistakes like Jonesboro did.”
Although Jacksonville is expecting pressure, they plan to pressure as well, which could make for an exciting game. “They got some big boys, real heavy set and muscled-up kids, but it looked like they only go about eight deep,” Joyner said. “We’re going to try to ratchet it up and get in their legs too a little bit. Hopefully we’ll get some good play off the bench and be able to go 10, 11, 12 deep. With those big kids, they play a 2-3 zone and a 1-3-1 matchup zone, and that’s their staple. When they beat Hall they ran a very good matchup zone.”
Even with the pressure that Joyner is expecting, he believes he’ll see some of that matchup zone as well. “I don’t think they’ll be able to keep up the kind of pressure that Jonesboro did. They’re not as long as Jonesboro, and they don’t go 15 deep like Jonesboro. So they’re going to try to pressure us, but I don’t think it will be the whole game or with the intensity that Jonesboro does it. They have that good matchup to go to, so I’m not expecting it to be all out pressure.”
Joyner has been pleased with his team’s man defense. Jacksonville has switched to a zone against teams he believes struggle with outside shooting, but doesn’t plan to make any defensive changes for the Wildcats. “We’re going to do what we do,” Joyner said. “Overall I think we’ve been pretty decent executing our man-to-man defense.”
Sylvan Hills hasn’t played Lake Hamilton this season, but did see them close up when the two teams took part in the Ortho of Arkansas tournament at CAC in December. The Wolves finished behind powerhouses Little Rock Hall and Parkview in the 6A-South standings, but gave those teams tough games, and won the Ortho tournament.
“It’s a good ballclub,” Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis said. “They’ve got a good inside game and they shoot the ball really well. They’re pretty athletic and they defend well. It’s a tough matchup.”
The Wolves will have a size advantage over the Bears, but that’s not something that Davis can concentrate on solely. Lake Hamilton’s shooting prowess presents a two-fold strategy for all of its opponents. “That big front line they’ve got makes their size a concern,” Davis said. “We’ve got good ok size with Julian (Bassett) and T.J. (Shelton), but sometimes it comes down to one spot. And it’s that third spot on the line where they’re going to have a pretty big advantage.”
Davis hopes to be able to force the tempo and minimize the damage done by the Wolf post players. “Going in we’ve got to try to stay in our style of game and get a tempo going that we like,” Davis said. “They’re a disciplined enough team, it might be tough to do, but it will be important for us to try to do that. That will be a key element to this game. It won’t be the sole element, but it will be a key.”
The Bears don’t play Lake Hamilton until day two of the tournament. They will tip off at 2:30 p.m. Thursday. Jacksonville will play the late game Wednesday, tipping off against the Wildcats at 8:30 p.m.
Searcy’s Lady Lions will play Benton at 4 p.m. Wednesday, with the boys facing Benton immediately afterwards at 5:30.