Little Rock Parkview Coach Al Flanigan hates to lose games, and no one has to jog his memory about how his Patriots finished the 2016-2017 season.
But Flanigan also likes to rectify wrongs, and he'll get a chance to do that tonight at 6 at the Bank of the Ozarks Arena in Hot Springs when the Patriots take on No. 1 Mills in the Class 5A state championship game. It's a rematch of last year's title-game thriller, won by Mills 65-61.
Parkview's longtime coach wouldn't want any other opponent in this game.
"I prayed that it would go down like this," he said. "Every time I come through that office door, that runner-up trophy is the first thing I see. Any time I get beat, I have a chip on my shoulder.
"So I've been wanting this matchup for a whole year. It's here now, and we've just gotta go get it done."
Challenges have been few and far between for Mills (29-2), which has won 28 consecutive games since dropping a 65-59 decision at North Little Rock on Nov. 18. The Comets' average margin of victory during its winning streak is 22.7 points, with 20 of those decisions coming by at least 17 points.
"We've had a great year, but now, it's about staying mentally fresh," Mills Coach Raymond Cooper said. "At this point, we're not going to do anything different than what we've been doing. We're just trying to sharpen everything up and focus on the task in front of us, and that's Parkview."
Mills has cleared the Parkview hurdle three times this season, with the first resulting in a 64-55 victory on Nov. 25 before rolling 95-72 on Dec. 8 in the rematch. The most recent meeting between the two is one that Flanigan believes got away.
Parkview led Mills most of the way and held a 57-52 lead with less than two minutes to go in the game, but the Comets scored the final eight points to win 60-57 in the semifinals of the 5A-Central Conference Tournament on Feb. 22.
Mills received another scare last week in the Class 5A boys state tournament semifinals against Little Rock Fair. The Comets didn't take their first lead until 1:46 remained before pulling away for a 60-51 victory. It's those types of games that Cooper said benefits his team moreso than the blowouts.
"The one thing we've always done is practice end-game situations," he said. "Of course, you can't simulate everything in practice that a game will give you, but you've got to have an idea and a plan in place. So being down wasn't new to them despite them not really being in that situation much.
"You've got to be able to overcome some adversity sometimes."
The Comets have also had to overcome the loss of starting point guard Branton McCrary, who suffered a broken bone in his foot late in the season. The junior was averaging 13.4 points and 4.3 assists per game before the injury.
With McCrary sideline, Cooper has leaned on others for extended leadership and scoring. Senior guard Grehlon Easter is averaging 16.1 points while Patrick Greene, also a senior, is scoring 10.5 a game. Junior forward Kevin Cross is also providing a boost on offense with 14.9 points and 6.8 rebounds.
The Patriots have won eight of their past nine games and are coming off a dominant stretch in last week's state tournament. Parkview won all three games by an average of nearly 15 points and gave up just 69 points total in its final two. The Patriots have been led all season by seniors Ethan Henderson (13.6 points) and C.J. White (16.1 points), as well as junior Allen Flanigan (11.6 points). But like Mills, defense has led the way recently.
"There's an old saying that defense travels, and we've got our defense in a suitcase," Flanigan said. "We've been able to open it up and use it. Offense don't always travel, defense can.
"We've been playing pretty good on both ends, but everyone knows what our bread and butter is."
Sports on 03/09/2018
Print Headline: Parkview, Mills no strangers