By Billy Woods WM School District
After losing the first three games of the season, West Memphis boys head coach Larry Bray switched up the rotation and it has paid off handsomely for the Blue Devils. West Memphis placed three players in double figures and made all the plays in the final two minutes Tuesday night at Lehr Arena to record its fourth straight victory, a 59-53 decision over Jacksonville. After the Blue Devils’ 59-40 loss to Earle in the Marion Classic early last week, Bray made some major personnel changes, going with five new players in the starting lineup. It’s made a profound difference in the team’s look, its approach and particularly on defense. “I just thought the first group (of starters) went out kind of flat, so we made the change,” said Bray. “With our new group we started picking up the other team (on defense) full court and I think that’s brought a lot more energy to the team. The intensity and the effort has picked up.” Bray’s starters Tuesday night included Gary Ward, Kevin Smith, Charles Smith, Demorious Hudson, who paced the Blue Devils with 15 points, and Martavious Johnson. That group held its own in the first quarter against a Jacksonville team that came in with a 3-0 record. But as Bray subbed them out in the second quarter the Red Devils caught and passed West Memphis, rushing out to a 27-19 lead with 2:28 to play before halftime. Down 33-27 to start the third quarter, Bray went back to his original five and they immediately ran out to a 9-2 spurt to take a 36-34 lead. A three-pointer by Dylan Gazo at the end of the third quarter made it 42-41 Jacksonville, but it gave the Blue Devils an emotional boost heading into the fourth stanza. Trailing 46-44 with 6:15 to play in the contest, Hudson hit his second three-pointer of the game to put West Memphis out in front for good. The rest of the way saw the Blue Devils stem any tide Jacksonville put up. “I just attribute that to us going out and competing hard the last four games,” said Bray. “We’re dealing with a lot of kids who haven’t played that much (at the varsity level). They’ve just got to learn to be consistent.” Jacksonville found itself in dire straits when senior leading scorer Tyree Appleby fouled out of the game with 1:35 to play. Still, trailing 56-50 with 29 seconds to play, Jacksonville got a three-pointer from DeJuan Ridgeway, who led all scorers with 18 points, to trim the Blue Devil lead in half. The Blue Devils made three of four free throws in the final half minute to secure the victory. “It’s always good when you win,” Bray concluded. “With our new lineup we may not look like a bunch of super heroes, but hopefully we just get the job done any way we can. That’s all we can ask.” Ward and Johnson put up 10 points apiece for West Memphis while Gazo chipped in six. The Blue Devils will host their own Classic this Friday and Saturday with four games each day. AWM will play Blytheville on Friday at 8:30 p.m. and then they’ll face defending Class 5A state champ Pine Bluff on Saturday at 5 p.m.