By Richard Sharp
Lake Area Sports
QUITMAN-Trailing by one to the Class 3A top-ranked Valley Springs Tigers, the Quitman Bulldogs had junior forward Jacob Cantrell provide late-game heroics with a put-back on an offensive rebound to propel the host to a thrilling 56-55 victory over the opposition in the final contest of the 2019 Quitman Fast Break Classic from Bulldog Complex on Saturday evening, avenging a season-opening 71-40 loss to Valley Springs in the opening round of the First Service Back Classic at Clinton just three weeks prior.
Both teams battled back with multiple ties and lead changes as Quitman senior Zac Shue popped a NBA-range three-pointer to give the Bulldogs a 19-18 advantage after one quarter of play, knocking down another triple off a pump fake before junior Brock Lippe answered right back with a three off his own to put Valley Springs on top 26-24, leading to yet another deep trifecta for Shue before senior forward Isaac Ragland gave the Tigers a 32-31 advantage at the halftime intervention after powering through with a lay-up from the left block.
Valley Springs opened the second half with a 4-0 spurt as junior Trell Trammell and Ragland drilled back-to-back jumpers, leading to a putback from Quitman senior Ethan Brantley before senior Teagan James cashed in on a 24-foot shot from beyond the arc to put the visitors up 43-33 with 3:43 left to go in the third session. Shue got a putback to fall before catching fire from outside again, pulling the Bulldogs within six at 46-40 with eight minutes remaining in the affair.
Trammell rebounded a Ragland miss and went back up and in to make it a three-possession game, as Brantley came through with five straight points to cut it to three at 48-45, adding on a three for his eighth point of the quarter, as senior Jordan Mauldin tied it at 50-all with a pull-up jumper from the left elbow.
Leading 52-51, the Bulldogs forced the Tigers into a shot clock violation, converting on the turnover with two made free throws from Shue for a three-point lead, with Lippe hauling in an offensive board and stick back to apply more pressure.
Shue would go on to miss the front end of a one-and-one opportunity, picking off a steal on the other end before Brantley came up short on a floater try, as Ragland gave Valley Springs the lead back on the hoop and harm stick back, missing the free throw that was controlled by Quitman and pushed over to Mauldin, who fired away on a wide-open three-point try from the left wing that missed but was rebounded by junior Jacob Cantrell, giving the Bulldogs their final lead on a put back with 11 ticks left that proved to make the difference, with Ragland missing his final shot inside to seal the deal on the come-from-behind win.
Shue led all scorers with 21, as Brantley followed right behind with 20 and Cantrell added seven for the Bulldogs (7-2), who remain unbeaten in Fast Break Classic action at 6-0 with 2018 victories over DeWitt (63-43), Midland (80-45) and White Hall (51-48), as well as 2019 triumphs over Bigelow (65-47), Two Rivers (75-51) and Valley Springs (56-55). Saunier dialed in 15 for the Tigers (12-2), getting help from Ragland’s 14 and Trammel’s 12.
“We knew we had a 3A contender coming in, and after last night’s battle with South Side Bee Branch, we thought we were going to have tired legs,” said Quitman head coach Brandon Burgener. “We played them [Valley Springs] up at Clinton and they beat us in the tournament there by 31, but we’ve gotten a lot better since then and found out what we are good at and what we aren’t good at and what we need to improve upon. We thought we had a much better chance tonight, and AAA [Arkansas Activities Association] needs to know that when this shot clock is in play, it gives the smaller teams like us a much better shot going up against the bigger teams like Valley and that it truly helps the better team come out on top. We knew we were going to have our hometown fans here rooting for these kids on a Saturday night and adding the energy the team brought on the bench helped everything really come full circle. Really big win for our program.”
Burgener also reflected on the week in general and looked forward to the coming years, continuing to receive interest from multiple schools, both current participants and potential newcomers.
“We are absolutely exhausted. I’ve got to thank our community members and staff here at Quitman who are so unselfish and always willing to help out and show their support for these kids outside of school and outside of the classroom and it just means so much. We had a lot of local teams show up and had some great games here. I’ve had multiple teams ask if they could come back next year and we are going to have a lot of open spots and we hope we have sparked a lot of interest in bringing this exciting basketball to the central part of Arkansas.”
The Lady Bulldogs kicked off the Quitman Saturday night sweep with a 69-42 thrashing of the Lady Red Devils, leading 19-4, 41-19 and 56-29 at the quarter breaks. Senior All-State guard Autumn Johnson led all scorers with 20 points as classmate and fellow All-Stater Lucy Holland added 12.Junior Lindsey Cox had 17 for Atkins (4-4). Quitman moved to 5-2 on the campaign, splitting in Fast Break Classic competition after falling short to Vilonia 47-45, bouncing back with a 67-13 2A-5 North road win over South Side Bee Branch on Friday.
West Side-67 Monticello-34
Playing in their fourth game in five days, the West Side Lady Eagles ended the long week with a statement victory over the Lady Billies, getting a monster game from senior forward Alex Southerland, who stuffed the stat sheet for 27 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and two blocks, shooting 10 of 16 from the field. Classmate Madison Bailey posted a near-triple double with 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists, going four of five on shot attempts while sophomore Ashtyn Knapp rang up 16 points on seven of fourteen shooting with four steals.
The Lady Eagles (11-3) finished 2-0 in the event, edging Bigelow 61-57 on Thursday.
Vilonia-80 West Side-58
In a battle of Eagle squads, Vilonia (5-1) attacked early and often, building 20-15, 43-28 and 63-44 leads through each quarter break. Austin Koonce led all players with 24 points, getting 15 from Braeden Lee. West Side (9-5) was paced by sophomore Travis Gentry and junior Nate Bittle, who each had 10 apiece.
In other games involving area teams, the Rose Bud Lady Ramblers ousted Two Rivers 52-42 while the Ramblers fell to Atkins 60-39. In the Lady Ramblers’ win, sophomore Kyndal Rooks had 20 while senior Hope Hartle added 19. In the Ramblers’ loss, senior Keaton Bates had 14.