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FORT SMITH -- For the first time since 2012, Fort Smith Southside is going to the postseason.

The Mavericks clinched a Class 7A state tournament berth by holding off Little Rock Central 77-71 in 7A-Central boys action at Southside Gym on Tuesday night.

Had the Tigers (8-16, 4-9) won, both teams would have been fighting for the final playoff berth from the 7A-Central in Friday's regular-season finale. Instead, Southside (14-13, 6-7) gets the berth, which is a big relief for Mavericks Coach Charles Cooper.

"This win [and getting into the postseason] wasn't just for them, but it was for the teams that just missed over the past few years," Cooper said. "We've had several teams on the border of making the playoffs, but just missed out because of tiebreakers.

"I am so happy for our seniors and other players who stepped up and played well. I am so happy to be in the postseason again."

Southside is the likely sixth seed and would play the 7A-West's third seed Feb. 28 at 5:30 p.m. in North Little Rock.

Southside tried to pull away on several occasions, but Central battled back. The Tigers forced an uptempo game and the Mavericks obliged, at times to their detriment.

Southside seemingly had control late in the first half at 33-21, only to see a 9-0 Central spurt in the last two minutes of the second quarter get the Tigers within 33-30 at halftime.

"I thought we had things under control, but Central sped us up," Cooper said. "We had 10 turnovers in the first half. We have not had a half like that in the last 5 games. We kept turning it over, and they kept shooting layups."

The Mavericks never lost the lead after Central led 2-0 in the first minute of the game, and Southside led 53-45 going into the final quarter.

The Tigers got within 65-64 with 2:55 left on a drive by Donald Richardson, but a three-point play by Dylan Hamilton and a jumper by Jaylin Coleman got the Southside lead to 70-64 with 1:46 left.

Tyrese Solomon clinched the game with a pair of free throws for a 76-71 lead with 20 seconds left.

Taye Gatewood paced four Mavericks in double figures with a game-high 21 points while Ike Moore poured in 18, Hamilton scored 14 and Coleman added 10. Caleb Dallimore and Rajhon McIntosh each scored 16 to lead Central while Richardson added 12.

LR CENTRAL (71)

Dallimore 6 4-4 16, McIntosh 8 0-0 16, Richardson 5 2-2 12, Arnett 4 0-1 8, Jackson 2 2-2 7, Brewer 2 3-4 7, Williams 2 1-3 5, Dudley 0 0-0 0, Sasser 0 0-0 0. Totals 29 12-16 71.

FS SOUTHSIDE (77)

Gatewood 9 2-3 21, Moore 5 6-8 18, Hamilton 6 2-3 14, Coleman 4 2-6 10, Solomon 3 2-2 8, Brewer 2 2-2 6, York 0 0-0 0, Jackson 0 0-0 0, Marshall 0 0-0 0. Totals 29 16-24 77.

LR Central (8-16) 12^18^15^26 -- 71

FS Southside (14-13) 22^11^20^24 -- 77

Three-Point Goals -- LR Central 1 (Jackson), FS Southside 3 (Moore 2, Gatewood). Team Fouls -- LR Central 19, FS Southside 15. Fouled out -- Williams. Technical Fouls -- McIntosh.

Sports on 02/21/2018

Print Headline: Southside earns first postseason berth since 2012

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