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story.lead_photo.caption Guy-Perkins head Coach John Hutchcraft will lead his Thunderbirds, a program he has guided for the past 40 years, against Izard County in the boys Class 1A state championship game tonight at the Bank of the Ozarks Arena in Hot Springs. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

HOT SPRINGS -- The end has come for the 42-year coaching career of John Hutchcraft.

Hutchcraft's Guy-Perkins Thunderbirds, a program he has guided for the past 40 years, battles Izard County for the boys Class 1A state title tonight at the Bank of the Ozarks Arena. The contest is the finale of the three-day, 14-game championship pairings.

Playing in the season's final act is not always an envious situation for anxious coaches, but it's not a first for Hutchcraft. Guy-Perkins played Bradley in the 2003 girls 1A title game when the championship games were held in Pine Bluff.

In their trip to North Little Rock on Sunday, Hutchcraft and his daughter Ashley Nance, who is Conway's girls coach, had a conversation about possible game times.

"We actually said this, 'We don't care what games we play, but we don't want the first game and we don't want the last game.' We got both of them," said Hutchcraft, who won his 2,000th career game earlier this season. "But seriously, we're glad we're here. It doesn't matter when we play."

Guy-Perkins (35-8) rallied from a 15-point deficit against Western Grove in the state semifinals to advance to tonight's championship game. Hutchcraft did not see the Thunderbirds' rally for a 65-58 victory as a major miracle.

"That was a tough one, but we play uptempo ball and 15 points is not a tremendous amount to overcome," Hutchcraft said. "We're averaging (79.5) points a game. Now, if you're averaging 45 points a game, you're beat. But when you average as much as we do, you can score a lot and we did."

Hutchcraft will attempt to end his career with 11 state championships. His boys have won five state titles (2017, 2009, 2006, 2005 and 1997). His girls teams also have five titles (2005, 2003, 2002, 2001 and 1984).

On Thursday, Hutchcraft watched from the second row behind the Conway bench as Nance's Lady Wampus Cats battled North Little Rock for the Class 7A title. It was the fourth time for Nance to coach a team to the championship weekend, but this year was the first year that both Hutchcraft and Nance had taken separate teams to the finale weekend. Nance was her father's assistant at Guy-Perkins prior to taking the head coaching job at Conway Christian.

"That makes it very unique," Hutchcraft said. "And we had planned that since she went somewhere else to coach. One day we wanted to be in the state finals together. And it makes it even more unique that it happens in my last year. We did it done and that's very exciting. I'll always remember that."

Sports on 03/10/2018

Print Headline: Hutchcraft closes tourney, career

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