Blue Devils back in state playoffs
By Billy Woods WM School District
The West Memphis Blue Devils left no doubt about their postseason intentions Tuesday night at Lehr Arena. Their 62-53 victory over North Little Rock seals their postseason fate and gives them momentum heading into the regular-season finale Friday night at Mountain Home. The win over the Charging Wildcats gives West Memphis (15-11 overall, 8-5 in the 7A/6A-East Conference) a 4-2 record in the 7A-East Conference, which will tie Cabot for the league title, although Cabot will secure the conference’s No. 1 seed, barely edging out the Blue Devils on the point system. Coach Larry Bray’s boys will play as the No. 2 seed from the East on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in next week’s Class 7A state tournament at Cabot against the No. 5 seed from the 7A-West. The soft-spoken Bray admitted after the game he likes where his team is, competitively speaking, right now. “I’m real proud of the kids right now,” said Bray. “They kept believing in (the coaching staff), kept getting better every day and that’s what we were striving for. It’s a great feeling where we are right now. We just gotta get ready for the next stage.” The three-pointers keep on falling for the Blue Devils, who canned eight against North Little Rock, giving them 15 in the last two games. They sank at least two threes in every quarter and ended the night making 8 of 14 for a sizzling .571 percentage. The Blue Devils never trailed and led for all but 55 seconds in the game. Senior Dylan Gazo shined on Senior Night by swishing four three-pointers for 12 points. Three of those treys were crucial. North Little Rock (13-12, 7-6) got a three-pointer from B.J. Walker, who hurt the Blue Devils in a loss last month at North Little Rock when he made four straight in the fourth quarter, to cut the hosts’ lead to 35-34 with 2:59 left in the third quarter. Gazo answered quickly with three-pointers on the next two trips down the floor to give his team a 41-34 edge heading into the fourth quarter. “That was the biggest moment of the game,” Bray said. “(Gazo) was a little timid on those shots tonight. In practice he’s shooting them a little quicker. Tonight he had guys flying at him and I’ve told him he needs to be at the free-throw line when they’re coming at him that hard.” North Little Rock was far from done, however. The Charging ‘Cats got within two at 42-40 with 4:16 to play in the fourth quarter, but Gazo gunned down another trey and senior teammate Robert Harris, who led the team with 13 points, also hit a three-ball to stem the tide. Eventually, it came down to the Blue Devils making all six of their free throws in the final two minutes to hold off the ‘Cats. But it was also the second-half play of West Memphis sophomore Zachary Byrd, who didn’t play at all in the first half, that keyed the team’s win. “No particular reason why Zachary didn’t play in the first half,” Bray explained. “We wanted to see how long we could play our seniors on Senior Night. But Zachary came up big in the second half. Byrd scored 11 points and grabbed 7 big rebounds in the final two stanzas. It’s the Blue Devil depth that is keeping the hammer down on opponents. Bray is playing 12 players almost every night, which is keeping practices competitive with several players pushing each other for playing time. “I’d say all 12 of those guys right now are contributing,” Bray added. North Little Rock, which has won the last three 7A state championships, although one was vacated, is struggling to even make the state tournament this year. At 1-4, the ‘Cats must beat Little Rock Central on Friday night to get in. Point guard Ahmere Albert once again played a solid floor game and contributed a pair of threes for 6 points. North Little Rock’s Adrian Moore led all scorers with 17 points while Walker added 10.