Blue Devils Edge ICC to Make History
MOUNT IDA-Shirley stamped its ticket to the state finals for the first time in school history Saturday night at Jeanne Smith Arena. Trailing Izard County Consolidated by six at halftime, the Blue Devils came out of the locker room aiming to apply pressure and speed up the pace. The move paid off in a hard-fought 53-49 victory over the Cougars.
Sheer grit and determination by the senior-laden Blue Devils backed head coach Keith Brown’s halftime decision.
“It did [swing the game],” said Brown. “That was kinda spur of the moment. I thought we’ve got to do something, we are in trouble. We turned it up and they kinda cracked a little bit and we got back in the game.”
Hundreds of Shirley fans made the three-hour trip to the Ouachita Mountains, where the Blue Devils return next week, only this time at Bank Of the Ozarks Arena in Hot Springs with the 1A state title on the line.
“You can hear what it means,” said Brown as the crowd continued to erupt in jubilation. “It’s amazing. It’s the first time in school history we have ever made the state final. That is the best group of kids I ever ever had right there. But Mike Fuller, a junior, stepped up big tonight. It means everything to that town.”
Fuller, used his strength, athleticism and determination in the paint to score a team-high 20 points. Meanwhile, versatile senior forward Jed Privitt and senior guard Joe Owen each added 14 points. Sharp-shooting senior Easton Freeman
Fuller slithered under the basket and scored over two defenders then Shirley expanded its lead when Privitt grabbed a loose ball and scored while drawing a foul. Privitt completed the three-point play before the Cougars closed the the gap to three entering the final period.
Leading 46-43 entering the final eight minutes of play, Fuller scored inside off an inbound play but ICC chipped away at the foul line, hitting 3-of-4 to draw within two. Privitt and ICC guard Taylor Reynolds swapped a pair of free throws, Spurlin connected from the stripe following Brooks’ fifth foul andnow with both teams short in the back court due to Owen and Brooks fouling out, ICC made 1-of-2 foul shots to cut Shirley’s lead to back to two.
The Blue Devils missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Landon’s tight defense and Freeman’s free throw shooting helped Shirley seal its first trip to the state finals.
ICC, which beat Bay (80-61), Mineral Springs (62-51) and Bradley (67-50) to reach the Final Four, finished its season with a record of 35-10 including a 102-79 loss to Shirley in late November.
Shirley (34-10) will face Guy-Perkins (36-4) in the state finals Saturday at 4:15 p.m. in Hot Springs at Bank of the Ozarks Arena. The Blue Devils defeated Guy 85-76 in October, but the Thunderbirds have won the past two meetings including a 66-63 decision in the regional finals.
“I am just going to enjoy this until midnight and then we will start watching tape and worrying about Guy,” said Brown. “They are 2-1 with against us but we are going to come out firing with all we’ve got.”
Shirley 75, Ridgefield Christian 43
Jed Privitt scored 18 points, Mike Fuller added 16 and Joe Owen had 14 as the Blue Devils rolled over Jonesboro private school Ridgefield Christian in the first round of the 1A state tournament in Mount Ida. Easton Freeman had 11 points for Shirley and Sam Spurlin chipped in six.
John Scholtens (20 points) and Will Scholtens (13 points) paced the Warriors (17-19).
Shirley 75, Deer 67
Easton Freeman drilled five three-pointers while scoring a game-high 21 points, Joe Owen followed closely with 20 and Jed Privitt had 18 to lift the Blue Devils past Deer in the second round of the 1A state tournament.
Mike Fuller added nine points and Sam Spurlin contributed seven for Shirley, which outscored Deer 21-16 in the fourth quarter.
Reece Reynolds had 18 points and Caden Young followed with 17 for the Antlers (26-5).
Shirley 47, Kirby 44
The Blue Devils outscored Kirby 14-8 in the fourth quarter, rallying to victory in the 1A state quarterfinals. Shirley, which had fallen on the road to Kirby 59-56 in early February, was led by Jed Privitt’s 18 points. Joe Owen added 13, Sam Spurlin had seven, Mike Fuller scored six and Easton Freeman chipped in three.
Haden Simon had 14 points, Carson Smith tallied 13 and Spencer Jones added 10 for the Trojans (31-5).