Crossing state tournament bridge next journey for the Lady Mustangs

Forrest City Lady Mustangs coach Bobby Harris didn’t practice his team over the weekend and on Monday wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to get in a practice session before the Class 5A state tournament starts play on Thursday.

Sunday night’s smorgasbord of winter weather cancelled classes Monday, today and pushed the start of the 5A state tournament at Alma back two days.

Harris’ Lady Mustangs, the No. 4 seed from the 5A-East Conference, are hoping to leave for Alma late Wednesday for Thursday’s 1 p.m. game against Vilonia, the No. 1 seed from the 5A-West Conference.

Under the revised tournament schedule, the Forrest City-Alma winner comes back on Saturday for a quarterfinal game. That winner will come back on Monday for the semifinal round.

All 14 state championship games will be played March 13-15, at Summit Arena in Hot Springs.

The Lady Mustangs qualified for the state tournament last Thursday by beating Nettleton in a winner-take-all final regular season game and became the first Lady Mustangs team to reach postseason play since the 2007-08 season.

“I know there’s one good thing about all this,” Harris joked on Monday. “At least we are going to be well rested. And the way and the pace that we play we need to be well rested to be effective defensively. I’m just a little concerned about shooting the ball after so many days away from the court. Hopefully we can get on a court early Wednesday.”

Vilonia’s Lady Eagles (25-3, 13-1) extended their winning streak to 13 games on Friday with a 57-36 romp over Shiloh Christian at Springdale to close out their regular season as the outright girls champion from the West.

All 15 players on the Vilonia roster saw action as the Lady Eagles jumped to a 18-6 first-quarter lead and extended that to 30-14 by halftime. Mckenzie Morris led the Lady Eagles with 21 points. Hannah Schnebelen followed with 10 points, and freshman Abby Hightower chipped in eight points and five rebounds.

The Lady Mustangs, who will also use 10 or more players, are led by the eight seniors on roster – Mollie Laws, Sherelle McGowan, Joycelynn Williams, Jakayla Burke, Ayanna Hilliard, Dominique Dillard, Deja Collins and Kiera Robinson. All eight have had a hand in getting the team to the state tournament and all eight will play various roles at Alma.

The Lady Mustangs, after going 3-4 in the first half of the round-robin 5A-East Conference this season, turned their season around by going 5-2 in the second half.

“We crossed a lot of bridges this season as a team,” Harris said of his fifth Lady Mustang team. “We like to think we have several more to cross before this group of seniors are through. Beating Nettleton and earning the trip to state was a special night for these girls and for Forrest City. We have been building a team, but we have also been building a successful girls basketball program. I guess you could say, it’s been an overnight, five-year journey.”

Harris said his girls have worked hard to put themselves in a position to achieve the success they have this season.

“At Alma, our plan is to continue that train of thought,” Harris said. “I’ve taken past teams to state as a four seed and they have had success. If these girls continue to do what we set out to do at the first of the year, then we have a chance to be playing again on Friday.”

Vilonia coach Alvin Riley, who was at the Forrest City-Nettleton game, was overheard telling Forrest City fans that his team had not seen or played a team this season that does what Forrest City does.

“Probably the closest he has come to seeing and experiencing the kind of game we play from any of the West teams would be Morrilton,” Harris said.

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Likewise, the Forrest City Mustangs, the No. 1 seeded team from the 5A-East, are scheduled for a Thursday morning departure time for Alma.

The Mustangs will face the host team Alma, seeded fourth from the 5A-West, in a 5:30 p.m. game on Thursday.

That winner comes back for a quarterfinal game on Monday at 12:30 p.m.

The boys semifinal games will be played Tuesday at 2 and 5 p.m., and those two winners will play for the Class 5A state title in Hot Springs.

Forrest City is making its 12th consecutive state tournament trip.

The Mustangs finished as the Class 6A state runner up in 2007, losing to Jonesboro in the championship game.