FORDYCE — If any team in boys or girls basketball may enjoy having the 3A state tournament on Fordyce's court as much as Fordyce, it's Drew Central.
FORDYCE — If any team in boys or girls basketball may enjoy having the 3A state tournament on Fordyce’s court as much as Fordyce, it’s Drew Central.
As the tournament tips off today, the teams from both schools can enjoy one thing in common — sleeping in their own beds. That’s the advantage all four head coaches mentioned in having the five-day playoffs come to the Dallas County town for the first time.
Fordyce girls coach Ronald Smead doubts his team will be distracted with so many teams — 16 each for boys and girls — coming to town.
“The pressure’s not on us,” the second-year Lady Bugs head coach said. “It’s on everybody else. They have to beat us on our floor.”
Drew Central (24-7) is one of two teams to have done that this season, taking the 8-3A Conference tournament championship in the process. But Fordyce (22-8) got the last laugh Saturday, beating the Lady Pirates 37-34 for third place in the 3A Region 4 tournament at Prescott and evening the season series at two wins apiece.
The two teams shared the regular-season conference title, each defeating the other for its only loss in league play.
“I don’t think we’re a typical four-seed,” Drew Central coach Michael Goad said. “Me, personally, and especially my girls, they feel like they have something to prove.”
They’ll have to prove that they can take down tournament favorite Jessieville at 7 tonight in the first round. Jessieville, which is 29-1 according to Goad, is the Region 2 champion.
“I actually got to see them in person,” Goad said. “It’s a great opportunity. To be the best, you have to beat the best. What better way to start the tournament than to go up against Jessieville.”
Adruna Simpson and Aaliyah Block lead Drew Central with about 15 points per game apiece, Goad said. Block averages around 7-8 rebounds per game, and Simpson makes 3-4 assists a contest.
Limiting its own turnovers and Jessieville’s three-point shots will be key for Drew Central, Goad said.
“They’re going to make threes,” he said. “We have to keep them off the foul line. They shoot free throws real well. We also have to stay out of foul trouble.”
Redbugs got next
Immediately following that matchup is a boys game between Fordyce — the No. 4 seed from Region 4 — against Region 2 champ Episcopal Christian of Little Rock. The lower seed is not what coach Stan Jones and the Redbugs (16-13) envisioned after winning the 8-3A tournament.
His players know what happened.
“We played around at regionals, took everybody for granted,” senior Markel Bulliner said. “We’ve just got to step it out, cut out the playing.”
Fordyce stumbled in the Region 4 semifinals and lost to Drew Central 53-49 Friday — after beating the Pirates the first three times this season, then lost the third-place contest 58-49 to Smackover.
“We have to take it a little more serious than we’ve been taking it,” said Jones, who’s in his 33rd season at Fordyce and in his 23rd leading the Redbugs. “When you put ‘Fordyce’ across your chest, you’re going to have to take everybody’s best shot.”
The Pirates (19-10) did just that Friday, getting 21 points from Damarius Thomas and 11 each from Dominique Rhodes and Jerelle Binns. But the team has been hit with injuries throughout the season; coach Larry Harris said his first district tournament game two weeks ago was the first time since Dec. 28 the Pirates had all five of their regular starters in action.
Rhodes leads Drew Central in scoring with 20 points per game. The 6-foot-3 senior missed some time due to an ankle injury this season, but played all three games in the regional, where Drew Central finished second to Prescott.
That finish put the Pirates in Wednesday’s 8:30 p.m. contest against Arkansas Baptist, the Region 2 third seed. Harris, their fourth-year head man, has yet to earn a state tournament victory, but he likes his chances in Fordyce, although his team is 0-2 there this season.
“I think it’s a big advantage,” Harris said of the tournament’s location. “It allows for short travel and more fan support. Hopefully, it’ll be a little friendly this time.”
It is friendly to the Redbugs, who also is led by a 20-ppg scorer in junior Rashad Allen.
“Just like home games we get to have,” senior Michael Hemphill said.
Wait until Wednesday
The Lady Bugs will begin Wednesday as well, taking on Harding Academy at 4 p.m.
Senior Sade Jenkins and freshman Lacie Hulse, both guards, average 15 points per game for Fordyce, but Hulse has the capability of doing even more damage offensively. Her career high is 34 points in a victory over Rison.
“I’ve just been trying my hardest and just want to step up for the seniors, because they’re doing their best for us to win,” Hulse said.
Said Smead: “I think the people that surround her really get her going. We’ve got good senior leadership. My point guard (Jenkins) is a senior, and she stepped up late in the season like a point guard should. Lacie does a good job of seeing the floor. She gets out, waits until we get the rebound … she gets out in front of those girls, and we keep our heads up and we find her for a lot of easy baskets.”
Seniors Madison Adams and Lakitta Grandy also are key cogs for the Lady Bugs, who believe their last victory will give them much-needed momentum for the state tournament.
“It shows how hard we work,” Jenkins said. “We work hard every day in practices, and it shows. You can’t ask for anything better than that.”
Prepping for the tourney
Smead said the state tournament brings him good memories from his playing days just up U.S. 79 in Kingsland.
“For me to be here as a coach, it’s another step, it’s another goal of mine as a coach from when I started this career,” said Smead, who’s in his ninth year overall at Fordyce. “We achieved the first part of it (getting to state). Now, the second part is to win the state championship.”
Smead said the buzz around town and volunteer help have been great. He added some out-of-towners already have taken a look at the approximately 1,800-seat arena thinking it might be even smaller for this small town.
“It’s good to have a state tournament down this way to get people to understand what it’s all about,” said Jones, who led the Redbugs to a state runner-up finish in 1998 with current Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Kevin Williams as the team’s star. “It’s going to help our businesses and the economy all the way around.”
There is a challenge to being in the tournament, even at home.
“The biggest challenge is being mentally focused and staying prepared in a short period of time,” Fordyce senior Thaxton Tolbert said during Monday’s practice. “This is the only practice we have until the state tournament.”
But so many advantages — big and little — come with the home court.
“The big advantage is that we just take advantage of it,” Jones said.