Trophy turns blue again
Billies come from behind to claim hard-fought win
In a game where neither team deserved to lose, Monticello fought back from a 15-point halftime deficit to post a 70-67 victory over Drew Central Tuesday night at Drew Central Gymnasium—and win the Showdown In M-Town Trophy in the process.
With the Arkansas Activities Association’s experiment with blended conferences in place during this basketball season, the trophy had to be decided differently. In years past, the two crosstown rivals played just once (not counting a possible meeting in the Commercial Bank Southeast Arkansas Holiday Basketball Tournament)—and with three games, it was easy to decide the winner of braggin’ rights.
In 2016-17, though, both Monticello and Drew Central were placed in Class 3A-4A, District 12, which meant a home-and-home series between the new conference opponents.
On Dec. 6, 2016, both the Billies and Lady Billies gave Monticello a 2-1 advantage in the trophy series with wins at Dan Coston Field House after the junior Lady Pirates got things started right for DC with a two-point victory. That meant Drew Central had to sweep the three games Tuesday to win the trophy outright.
A 2-1 Pirates’ advantage on their home court would have caused administrators at both schools to decide among themselves a formula for presenting the town trophy—seeing as each school would have won three games. For most of the senior boys’ game Tuesday night, it looked like that meeting would be taking place.
A 24-7 Pirate run in the second quarter put Drew Central up 37-22 at intermission, and it seemed as if DC would pin the first 12-3A4A loss on the Billies. As it turned out, Monticello improved to 10-4 for the season, 8-0 in the new blended league, while giving the Pirates only their fourth loss in 16 games overall. Drew Central is 5-3 in 12-3A4A.
“We found a way to fight back,” longtime Monticello boys’ coach Wayne Sherrer said outside an unusually subdued Billies’ locker room. “It was just one of those things where we had to compete.
“We didn’t play well the first half and they did. It was a time for us to show what kind of fight we had; we fought back and got it done. With Devario (Ballard) not being in there (because of the flu), that hurt us some. It disrupted our continutity. He’s probably our most athletic guy. When we took him out, that hurt us a little bit.”
Ballard or not, what was hurting Monticello during the first half was Drew Central. After spotting the Billies a two-point lead at the end of eight minutes, the Pirates clicked on all cylinders in the second quarter, rolling to what seemed like— with the way Monticello was playing—a big DC victory.
“It was a pretty good one, and that’s the way it should be,” Drew Central boys’ coach C.J. Watson said of his team’s second meeting with Monticello. “It should be a nip-and-tuck game like that. We played well. I probably didn’t do a very good job subbing; we probably got a little tired. But that’s what this game is about—that’s the way it should be.”
As has happened many times over the last few years, though, the Billies woke up in the second half. Freshman Keshaun Pippen led the way with 22 points, including five made three-point shots and a 3-for-3 performance from the free-throw line last in the fourth quarter when Monticello needed every point it could get.
“They’re going to be good players,” Sherrer said of his ninth graders, Pippen and Shannon Strickland. “They don’t know how to win at this level yet but they’re going to be good players. They’ve got a lot of heart—and some ability.”
Every time Drew Central would pull close after Monticello finally took the lead at the 1:17 mark of the final period, it seemed Pippen would either hit another three or net a free throw. The youngster led a charge that saw the Billies outscore Drew Central 21-11 in the third period and 27-19 in the last eight minutes to pull out the win.
Only five Billies found the scoring column, but four of those reached double figures. Seniors Saniyass Brown, P.J. Deshazer and Xavier Robinson followed Pippen on Monticello scoring charts; Robinson scored 16 points (mostly from offensive rebounds and put backs), Brown added 14 and Deshazer chipped in with 12.
All four played major roles in the Billies’ 48-point second half. At the same time, the Monticello defense held Drew Central to just 30 second-half points.
“That’s just the way it goes,” Watson said. “Even though we lost, I can see improvement from the first time we played them (a 72-68 Monticello win). We have to do a better job of blocking out. (Robinson) killed us on the boards.
“I think we’re getting better. I think the (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) has them No. 4 in the state, and if they’re No. 4 in 4A, I like where we’re at (in 3A). We’re getting better every game.
“If we can just peak at the right time, maybe we can have a special end of the year. I’m disappointed that we lost but I’m not disappointed in our effort at all. We played good.”
Four Pirates reached double figures as well. Three of them were juniors—Wooda Bell, who netted a team-high 19 points; Gary Lucas, who added 12; and Montiel Daniels, who chipped in with 10. Senior Deluno Lucas also had 10 points in the loss.
Monticello’s senior girls cruise again
All Drew Central girls’ coach Michael Goad could say after the Showdown In M-Town Tuesday night was: “Let’s not play Monticello three times in one year.”
The Lady Billies helped bring the crosstown rivalry trophy back to Monticello, after a year’s stay at Drew Central, with a convincing 62-35 win at Drew Central Gymnasium.
With both local schools now being in the same Arkansas Activities Association blended conference, this was the back end of a home-and-home series. On Dec. 6, 2016, Monticello posted a 60-27 victory over the Lady Pirates at Dan Coston Field House.
Then, the two local schools met in the girls’ championship game of the Commercial Bank Southeast Arkansas Holiday Basketball Tournament on Dec. 30, where Monticello claimed first place with a 65-41 win.
Tuesday night was the game coaches dread. Pretty much all agree it’s tough to beat a team three times in one season—and first-year Monticello girls’ coach Bobby Lewallen said he thought about just that before the game. His now 16-3 Lady Billies allayed his fears, though, by outscoring Drew Central 43-12 in the middle two quarters.
Monticello’s record includes an 8-0 start to the AAA’s Class 3A-4A, District 12 two-year experiment. The Lady Pirates fell to 10-6 overall and 5-3 in 12-3A4A.
“DC came out strong and was successful early on,” Lewallen said. “I was pleased with how our girls responded. Nobody panicked or tried to do too much. We stayed within our offense and kept applying pressure defensively and got ourselves going. Our bench players came in and gave us a spark late in the first quarter.”
After those first eight minutes, though, the Lady Pirates were hanging with their neighbors, trailing only 15-12. But a 23-8 Monticello explosion rocked Drew Central Gymnasium in the second period and the Lady Billies followed that with a 20-4 advantage in the third quarter to quickly erase any doubt as to who the winner of the second of three games played on the night would be.
The AAA sportsmanship running clock was employed all during the fourth quarter and Monticello scored only four more points to Drew Central’s 11 but, by that time, the outcome had long been decided.
Three of the nine Monticello players who scored reached double figures. Senior Brandashia Hargraves, as she has in nine games so far this season, led the Lady Billies with 14 points. Junior Taylor Donald added 12 and senior Tiarra Austin chipped in with 10.
For Drew Central, which led 10-9 with 2 minutes, 10 seconds left in the opening period—then were outscored 53-25 the rest of the way—senior Ahnya Ridgell was the leading scorer with 11 points and was the lone Lady Pirate in double figures.
Ridgell has garnered that honor in 12 of DC’s 16 games played thus far in 2016-17.
Junior Pirates roll past crosstown rivals
On Nov. 15, 2015, Drew Central’s junior boys’ basketball team trailed Magnolia 18-1 in the championship game of the El Dorado Freshman Tournament before bouncing back to win by two points. Tuesday night was quite as harsh, but the junior Pirates had to come from way down again to defeat Monticello 53-33 at Drew Central Gymnasium and continue a winning streak which now has reached 54 games.
It also gave Drew Central a temporary leg up in the race for the Showdown In M-Town Trophy, but with Monticello bouncing back to take both senior games, the trophy returned to Dan Coston Field House—where it has resided sine 2010, save for last year when Drew Central claimed braggin’ rights in the crosstown rivalry.
“We played as bad as we could for about a quarter and a half,” Drew Central boys’ coach C.J. Watson said of Tuesday’s contest, “then we turned it up. Experience took over. I don’t know if they felt the game or what all was going on, but we just came out flat.
“I think it was a combination of playing Monticello—and the streak. We were in an assembly today and the principal brought up the streak. I don’t know if they’re tired of hearing about it or what, but it has to weigh on them a little bit. It gets more intense every game we play.”
A 13-3 deficit at the end of six minutes had the winning streak in jeopardy. But Drew Central came alive in the second quarter, outscoring the junior Billies 16-7 to trsail by only one point at intermission.
DC assumed the lead for good with a 14-8 third quarter and punctuated the victory by demolishing Monticello 20-5 in the final period.
“It just shows our immaturity,” said longtime Monticello senior boys’ coach Wayne Sherrer, who assumed the junior high coaching duties at the start of the season. “We have predominately eighth graders. They started off really focused but then kind of lost their focus a little bit. Drew Central started making some shots—and here we go.”
A trio of freshmen—Zy Zy Chavis, Trenton Eubanks and Travarus Shead—paced the junior Pirates in scoring. Chavis led with a game-high 17 points, Shead added 13 and Eubanks chipped in with 12.
Only one Monticello player—Nick Smith—reached double figures. Nick Smith scored 11 points for the junior Billies.
The win improved Drew Central’s record to 9-0 overall for this season and kept the junior Pirates perfect since late February 2014.