Anyone who doubted County Line's ability to fight back after falling behind Marked Tree late Friday night doesn't know what the Indians have been faced with this season.
County Line plays in the 1A-1 West Conference where three teams, County Line, The New School, and Ozark Catholic each finished with at least 35 wins this season. County Line also played up in classification during the regular season and took down quality programs like Alma, Pea Ridge, Dardanelle, and Lavaca.
So, the Indians were more than prepared for the challenge after falling behind and being tied nine times with Marked Tree in the Class 1A championship game at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs. The game was still tied when Cooper Watson took a pass from guard Trent Johnson and scored on a short jumper with six seconds left to give County Line a 46-44 victory.
The win capped a 45-0 season for County Line, which trailed Marked Tree by 11 points early in the third quarter. The win also flipped the script from the previous year when County Line lost 44-41 to Bradley on a last-second 3-pointer.
"The 45-0 is something that's remarkable and really cool," County Line coach Joe Brunson said. "I scheduled a really tough schedule, we played some really, really good teams throughout the year. When I scheduled them, I figured we'd have a couple of losses along the way. It just never happened."
Redemption, not revenge.
That's the way Reese Shirey described her objective while awaiting Farmington's rematch with Nashville for the girls state championship in Class 4A. Shirey and her teammates were heartbroken last year when Sidney Townsend made a three-point basket with 3.3 seconds left to give Nashville a 42-41 victory and the Class 4A state championship over the Cardinals.
"I still think about it," Shirey said hours before her team loaded up for the trip to Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs.
Thoughts of despair have been replaced by jubilation after Farmington won the rematch, 65-61, and the state championship over Nashville. Reese flashed a big smile as she walked to the free-throw line in the final seconds and added a point.
The game lived up to its hype with Nashville ranked No. 1 and Farmington No. 2 throughout the entire season in Class 4A. New stars always emerge on the big stage that is the state finals and for Farmington it was Marin Adams, a sophomore who came off the bench to lead all scorers with 22 points. At crunch time, Farmington turned to its two leaders, future Razorback Jenna Lawrence, and Shirey, the daughter of former Razorback Amber (Nicholas) Shirey. Lawrence had 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots to earn the game's Most Valuable Player while Shirey ended with 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals.
"Last season didn't go the way we wanted to," Lawrence said after Farmington won its 25th consecutive game to finish 35-1 on the season."That just gave us more drive to win this year."
With the victory celebration just 1.6 seconds away, Farmington coach Brad Johnson had the foresight to pull the starters and insert players off the bench so they can always say they played, however briefly, in the state championship game in 2023. As a former bench warmer myself, I can appreciate the gesture.
Redemption was not a factor in Class 5A for the Greenwood girls, who defeated Vilonia 58-35 to secure their second consecutive state championship and third in four years (co-winners with Nettleton in 2020). The 2022-2023 Greenwood team will long be remembered for the one-two scoring punch of senior Mady Cartwright and junior Anna Trusty. Cartwright finished with 1,574 career points while earning the championship game's MVP for the second straight year. Trusty has 1,294 points with another year to play.
"It's been great, getting to leave Greenwood with three (state championship) rings," Cartwright said. "Not very many people have been able to do that."