by Bobby Stapleton, sports
Izard County punched their ticket, this time a Golden Ticket, last Saturday, when they knocked off the Mount Vernon-Enola Warhawks at Morrilton in the semi-finals of the State Tournament. Ten years ago, the Izard County Cougars went to the Summit in Hot Springs and brought home the 1A State Championship trophy. This weekend, they will try to duplicate that achievement. The Cougars head back to the Spa City for a 7:45 p.m. tipoff on March 10, where they will face the Guy Perkins Thunderbirds.
The Cougars jumped out to an early lead when Justus Cooper lit things up with a baby hook shot in the lane and Dalton Dillard stroked a trey from the left wing. Cooper upped the lead with a step back jumper from the top of the key, making it an early 7-zip lead for the Cougars. Mt. Vernon-Enola finally got on the scoreboard at the 3:18 with a free throw and Dylan Tharp answered that with a pull up jumper off the free throw line, pushing the Cougar lead up to 9-1.
The Warhawks racked up back-to-back treys to close the gap down to a two point game, but Caleb Faulkner hit a jumper in the lane and Dillard hit one of two free throws to bump the lead to 12-7. The Warhawks capped the first stanza with a couple of charity tosses and the Cougars kept the lead, 12-9. Mt. Vernon-Enola made it a one point game with a bucket with less than half a minute gone from the clock in the second, but Faulkner drained a trey from the top of the key to make it a two possession game once again. The Warhawks picked up a bucket at the other end to keep it close, but Faulkner sank a couple of free throw to keep it a two possession game. The Warhawks picked up five straight points to claim their first lead at the 2:50 mark, taking an 18-17 lead. A little less than a minute ticked off the clock and Cooper stuck back a rebound and followed that with a traditional three point play, pushing Izard County back out in front 22-18, which held up until halftime.
The Warhawks opened the third quarter with six straight points, going up 24-22. Faulkner hit a jumper from near the free throw line to knot the game back up at 24-all, but a traditional three point play at the other end kept the Cougars trailing. Faulkner stole a ball on defense and took it back for the lay up, pulling Izard County back to within one. Another old fashioned three point play by Mt. Vernon-Enola gave them a two possession lead at 30-26, but a baby hook by Cooper off the right side and a floater in the lane from Faulkner tied the game 30-all with 3:40 left in the third. The Warhawks retook the lead with a trey, but Cooper hit a jumper from the top to keep it a one point game. Mt. Vernon-Enola stayed with the long range bombs, hitting their third trifecta of the frame to up their lead to 36-32 before Mike Uecker hit a reverse lay up to pull the Cougars back to within two. The fourth trey of the third quarter upped the Warhawks lead to 39-34, but Faulkner crashed the offensive glass and stuck back a rebound to close out the frame, pulling the Cougars back to within three points at 36-39.
Izard County had eight minutes to get things lined out and head back to Hot Springs, where Coach Kyle McCandlis has fond memories, since he was on the team ten years ago when Izard County last won the Championship. Uecker hit a jumper off the right side after getting the no look pass from Cooper, making it a one point game. The Warhawks made it four in a row as they nailed a trey to up their lead, and the Cougars started climbing back with a vengeance. Back-to-back buckets by Faulkner knotted the game to 42-all with 6:03 left in the game, then Cooper came back with two free throws at the 5:34 mark to put Izard County on top 44-42. With the Warhawks spreading the floor to pressure Izard County, Faulkner attacked the basket and hit the jumper in the lane to make it a two possession game at 47-43. Mt. Vernon-Enola never could put together back-to-back scores and Izard County hit free throws from there on to secure their ticket to the Championship game by taking a 52-48 win. For Izard County: Faulkner (22), Cooper (17), Uecker (6), Dillard (4), Tharp (2), and Everett (1).

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