By Billy Woods WM School District
MOUNTAIN HOME — In a game with no state tournament implications, West Memphis head coach Larry Bray decided to give some of his seldom-used reserves a chance in the limelight here last Friday night. It almost cost the Blue Devils some momentum as they head into this week’s Class 7A state tournament. It took a little grit and some luck, but the Blue Devils defeated Mountain Home 53-52. Bray’s starting lineup consisted of Charles Smith, twins Devin and Tevin Mosley, Jarquez McClendon and Demorious Hudson. Playing against a Mountain Home team that had a 7-19 overall record and a conference mark of 3-10 coming into the game, that group gave Bray’s regular starters a 29-26 lead heading into the first half. But after sitting the first two quarters, Bray admitted his regulars could have been tight and out of synch as they entered the game in the third quarter. The result was a classic escape job, something even better Blue Devil teams have had to have in order to leave Mountain Home with a win. With a chance to win, Mountain Home’s Chase Ohler threw the ball over teammate Howie Wehmeyer’s head and out of bounds with nine-tenths of a second to play and all the Blue Devils had to do was inbound the ball, which they did, in order to win. “We have a lot of guys who haven’t played and this game wasn’t anything in determining whether or not we were going to the state tournament, so I decided to give them a chance to start,” Bray explained. “I told them they needed to see what it feels like to step in there and play at the start. I can see where our starters were possibly out of sync because they’ve been used to starting.” All that’s left for Bray’s squad now is the state tournament in Cabot. The Blue Devils (16-11 overall, 9-5 in the 7A/6A-East Conference) will face Springdale Har-Ber (13-14 overall), the fifth-place seed from the West, on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. The West Memphis starters clung to a 37-36 lead at the end of three quarters and they trailed the Bombers by a point twice early in the fourth quarter before sophomore Zachary Byrd took over. The undersized post player scored 6 of his 10 second-half points in the fourth quarter and he skied over several taller Bombers for key defensive rebounds. Byrd’s layup with 1:41 to play in the game gave the Blue Devils a 53-52 lead. His teammates had two chances to seal the game at the free-throw line, but both missed as Martavious Thomas and Ahmere Albert misconnected on one-and-ones with 11.4 and 6.6 seconds to play respectively. Albert’s miss gave the home team a chance to win the game in walk-off manner, but the Bombers turned it over near the team’s bench. Bray was noticeably disappointed by the free-throw misses, but said, “I don’t want to talk about free throws. I’ve told our guys you never know which one of you is going to be at the free-throw line late in games and you’ve got to be ready.” Hudson poured through 13 first-half points to lead the Blue Devils while Dylan Gazo, who hit two big three-pointers in the second half, finished with 8 points and Darius Hall scored 5. The Blue Devils finished 6 of 18 from the three-point arc, something that also caught Bray’s attention. “That’s a little too many to take,” he said. But the Blue Devils clobbered Mountain Home on the backboards, outrebounding them 25-13.