SPORTS >> Owls post first-ever state win by beating West Fork
CAVE CITY — It may not have been as pretty as Abundant Life coach Tim Ballard may have wanted, but the Owls advanced through the opening round of the 3A state tournament with a 43-34 win over West Fork at Caveman Arena on Thursday night.
The Owls took on Bergman last night in the quarterfinals in a game played after Leader deadlines.
As expected, much of West Fork’s defensive attention focused on guards Colby Woolverton and Dane Lottner. The high-octane duo was held to 16 points combined, but the AL post players were able to contribute 20 points. Nelson Boren, Garrett Southerland and Dustin Keathley may not have been able to dominate against the bigger Tigers, but more aggressive play from the Owls in the secondhalf allowed them to control the tempo.
“They played a jump man-to-man on Dane and Colby,” Ballard said, “and a zone on the other three. They overplayed them and tried to contain them some. They were a humongous team; they had tall guards and big, thick post players. They played really physical in the first half, but we were able to get in there and be more aggressive in the second half and outrebound them.”
The defensive struggle led to a 23-18 lead for Abundant Life at halftime. Rather than push the issue in the second half, the Owls were content to work on clock management, which went a long way towards preventing a West Fork run in the closing stages.
“It’s hard for your posts to respond when they pack three guys under the goal,” Ballard said. “They started fouling, so we were getting most of our points from lay-ups or free throws.”
The trips to the line for the Owls could have put the game away a bit earlier, but five straight misses at the stripe kept West Fork in the game until the final minutes.
Lottner led the Owls with 10 points. Boren added eight points, with seven points from Southerland. Woolverton finished with six points, and Keathley rounded it out with five points. The win improved the Owls’ to 33-8 on the season/
Bergman entered State as the No. 1 seed out of Region 3, and came into the tourney on a 20-plus game winning streak.
Ballard says it will be a tough, but winnable game.
“They have two great scorers at guard — we have two great scorers at guard,” Ballard said. “They also have a big kid inside that is a good defender. It’s going to be interesting; they haven’t lost a game since the first week of December. They are playing some really good basketball right now.”
It was the Owls’ first-ever state playoff game, making Thursday’s win a historic one for Abundant Life Schools. Ballard likes his team’s chances the rest of the way, but also says the week has been a good reward for a year of hard work, and half a decade of near misses.
“All those teams that put us out in regionals every year were always top-three teams,” Ballard said. “Every time, we had to go up against one of the hottest teams in the state. We always felt like if we could catch a break during regionals, that we could make some noise once we got to state.”