By Chuck Livingston Sports Editor
All night long around Earle’s high school gym, the talk was that their Bulldogs would be facing a much different Marked Tree team than they had seen earlier in the season. Earle had beaten Marked Tree by 30 points last month, and some felt like it could have been worse. A hungry Indians team showed up ready to play from the tip, but it was Earle left standing at the end of the night, winning 58-52 to post their 20th win of the season while remaining perfect in league play at 12-0. “We played a good ballgame because we were able to beat a good team, but I have to get better control of our players,” said veteran Earle head coach Billy Murray. “We weren’t quite as sharp as we should have been. I’m satisfied with the win that we got, but we have a lot of work to do.” One area that kept Marked Tree in the game was turnovers. Earle gave the ball away 26 times against the Indians, and while the Bulldogs forced 21 of their own, it still served as an equalizer for the visitors. “That says something about your defense that you can give up 26 turnovers and still win a game. It says something about them too,” added Murray. Earle was led by sophomore post man Gerry Bohanon’s game-high 19 points and he added 7 points and a blocked shot. It was Bohanon that gave Earle the lead for the final time at 53-52 with 43 seconds left in the game when he scored on a baby hook in the lane. On Marked Tree’s possession following Bohanon’s bucket, Earle senior guard Marquise Brown came up with a steal at half court and scored on a lay-up for a three-point advantage. Brown would score 13 points in the game, all in the second half, including nine in the fourth quarter. Marked Tree’s D’Angelo Griffin would miss a three-point basket that would have tied the game and senior guard Donte Garrett would split a pair of free throws for a four-point lead and Garrett would come up with a steal leading to a Brown lay-up that would serve as the final basket of the game by either team. Brown’s hoop set off a massive celebration inside the gym as Earle swept the regular season series against Marked Tree, much to the chagrin of a sizable visiting crowd in the western-most town of Crittenden County. The Indians entered the game with just two losses in league play, and a win against Earle could have put them right back into the mix for the top seed in the district tournament, which will be held this season on its home floor in Marked Tree. “This was really for the conference championship,” Murray said. “We win and we’re still undefeated and now they have three losses. Everybody else has three, four or even five losses.” While the game finished in a flurry, it did not necessarily start that way. Earle led 9-6 after the first quarter, and the teams were having trouble making shots. The Bulldogs saw their lead get trimmed to two points entering halftime at 22-20 and Earle was just 10 of 32 from the field, including 1 of 9 from three-point range. Earle made the first run of the second half, jumping out to a 36-30 lead, but Marked Tree answered quickly, tying the game at 36-all late in the third quarter and getting to the fourth even at 41-all after an offensive rebound and stickback. The fourth quarter featured seven lead changes and three ties before the closing sequence went Earle’s way. “This was a big win because 20 wins is great, that’s a big deal for us,” explained Murray. “Also, winning the conference means you already qualify for the regional tournament. You only have to win one game in the regional tournament to get to the state tournament. So we almost kind of stamped our ticket to state tonight.” Treyvon Boyce blocked four shots against Marked Tree, while Garrett and Billy Murray Jr. were tops on the team with three assists apiece. Cortez Banks copped three steals to lead Earle. Marked Tree got 16 points from Griffin, while Laquentin Miles added 14 points and Markel Perry had 16 points, 16 rebounds, two assists and three steals. The Bulldogs remained No. 1 in Class 2A in the weekly Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s SuperSix poll. They’ve held the top spot for all but one week this season. Earle’s run to the state tournament will begin in Marked Tree for the district tournament, followed by the regional tournament in Sloan-Hendrix. If the Bulldogs can navigate those two brackets, then they will play in the Class 2A state tournament in Marmaduke. The Bulldogs are back at home tonight when they host Riverside for four games, with the junior high girls contest tipping at 4 p.m.