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OPINION: Battle on the Ridge tourney returns this week

December 8, 2021 at 9:38 a.m.

After having to cancel the local boys' home basketball tournament last year due to the covid response, the tournament founded and operated by head boys coach Trent Neal is back in business with seven teams coming from Missouri and different parts of Arkansas.

The Blackhawks were supposed to kick off the tournament by hosting the Earle Bulldogs, a team that compiled a 22-3 record last season. They boasted two 6'5", 245- to 250-lb. senior players underneath and several speedy guards. They are the proud owners of bunches of state championship trophies. However, Earle dropped out of the tournament a few days ago and Thaden School of Bentonville was willing to come in last minute and take Earle's spot. I was on Earle's web page for sports, and it seems they scheduled conference games and this tournament at the same time. Whatever.

Thaden School, located on what used to be the Benton County fairgrounds in Bentonville, is only in their second year of having sports. I could only find a little info on the Barnstormers, with their having beaten Haas Hall and lost to the Lincoln Wolves.

There are two Missouri teams coming down including longtime participant McDonald County and up the road Mustang rivals, the Neosho Wildcats. Neosho is a Class 5 school district, somewhat akin to the Arkansas 5A in basketball. The Wildcats have played but a single game this season, a 86-67 beat down of the Aurora Houn' Dawgs. McDonald County has also played but one game, which they lost 62-58 to Joplin.

While the Missouri schools have but one game under their belt, Little Rock's eStem High School has recorded 10 to date, winning six of them. Of their losses, they have been to 6A schools Benton, Jacksonville and Little Rock Southwest. A perennial state contender in the playoffs, their school is downtown Little Rock, which draws students from across the city.

Arkadelphia will be heading up north again, with the far south 4A school previously visiting the Ridge on several occasions in football and basketball. Their record is 5-1, with their lone loss to Lakeside by a 65-60 count. The Badgers were shorthanded on that occasion and all the rest of the games as well until their 57-54 loss to Shiloh in the state football semifinals last week. They will be every hand on deck this week for the tournament.

Lifeway School, a private Christian school in Centerton has a 3-11 mark, with the losses coming against mostly smaller schools. Two of their wins were against the Haas Hall Academies. They played Gravette two week ago, losing 67-38.

Our last team coming to the Ridge will be the Clarksville Panthers. The Panthers are 4-4 on the season, including a 61-33 take down of Gravette. They have beaten Van Buren and Greenwood but have lost to Huntsville by a point.

This will be the first time of hosting the tourney in the new complex-- one of the best, if not the best, 4A basketball arenas in the state.

Who will win the tourney? Several have a shot at it and it will come down to, as it always does, to whoever plays the best of a given moment. Turnovers and poor shooting can make good teams look bad, so the team that plays the best will likely make off with the 2021 Battle on the Ridge Championship trophy.

Come out and take in some games on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Hogs roll out to an 8-0 mark

The Razorback basketball men's team has risen to the No. 10 spot in the NCAA National Rankings. However, they have not have picked up the habit of playing both halves with the same intensity.

Having watched or listened to most of their games to date, they have played rather unevenly though when they are on, Katy bar the door.

With the Frank Broyles' era of never playing other instate teams over, the Hogs played Central Arkansas (Conway) and University of Arkansas-Little Rock last week. They were games that Vegas would not even touch as an upset possibility.

Playing against UCA, a 1-6 team with nowhere near the talent as the Razorbacks, the Bears made a game of it for the first half last week, trailing by only six at the half. After a serious talk with Coach Musselman, the Hogs exploded for 56 points in the second half and won by 37, 97-60,

Little Rock played at Fayetteville Saturday and the Hogs were unstoppable, scoring 49 to lead by 15 at the half. Playing Little Rock which had come back from a long ride to Colorado and having just seven players, the on-air announcers figured it might be a big time blowout in the 2nd half -- but it wasn't. Actually the Trojans got to within 5 points in the second half before the Hogs got a run at the end to win by 15, the same lead they had at the half.

Earlier this season, in a Kansas tournament, the Hogs played Kansas State. The Hogs were beating them in every phase of the game and led 42-24 at the half. Again the announcers thought the Wildcats were toast with the second half likely to be a blowout. It wasn't, as the 'Cats got close but again a late rush by the Hogs gave them an 8-point, 72-64 final victory. In the tournament final, the Hogs scored but 26 points in the first half to trail Cincinnati 30-26. After the break, the Razorbacks caught fire to score 47 more and win 73-67.

In the season's first game, Mercer University, though a heavy underdog, was whipping the Hogs 36-28 at the break. Second half, Hogs explode for 46, win by 13. Against Garner-Webb, Arkansas shot way ahead in the first half, but G-W matched them point for point in the second half.

Playing a team with a losing record in Northern Iowa, the Hogs barely squeaked out to a 2-point lead at the half. The second half saw them explode for 53 points to win by 13, 93-80.

This year's Hog basketball program has a lot of youth and inexperience. They have the talent to do great things this season and they have the coach to lead them there. I'm hoping they will pick up the knack of playing both halves with the same intensity. Considering the current rankings, the Hogs may not play a ranked team until February. Currently there are five SEC teams ranked in addition to the Hogs. Kentucky is No. 9, Tennessee No. 13, Florida No. 14, Alabama No. 16, and Auburn is No. 21.

The Razorbacks have the stuff to win the SEC this year. Hopefully they will get their halves together before the really important games come their way.


Editor's note: John McGee, an award-winning columnist, sports writer and art teacher at Pea Ridge elementary schools, writes a regular sports column for The Times. The opinions expressed are those of the writer. He can be contacted through The Times at [email protected]

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