Cardinals earn regional bid

LITTLE ROCK - For a team that is built like a powerhouse and an offensive force to be reckoned with, the Harmony Grove Cardinals took a different approach to its game on Thursday night. Playing in the quarterfinals of the 5-3A district tournament in Little Rock, the Cardinals took Head Coach Dexter Hendrix’s game plan and executed it flawlessly, beating Fountain Lake 33-27 to advance to the semis today against Episcopal.
“Fountain Lake is so very well-coached,” Hendrix said. “That makes them a tough team to beat. When you get a lead on them, you want to protect it because if they get one, they will protect it.”
Harmony Grove switched from feeding the ball inside nearly every time down and took a more time management approach to the contest. Harmony Grove controlled the ball on offense for nearly half of the first half, taking the best shot possible every time.
“I have got to give our kids credit,” Hendrix said. “They stuck to the game plan and executed it very well. I am just happy that they got a win tonight.”
Harmony Grove jumped on top 6-0 early in the first quarter, before allowing the Cobras to score for the first time with 2:18 left on the first quarter clock. Harmony Grove added another bucket to end the first with an 8-2 lead. The Cardinals ran off 1:10 of the final 1:30 in the quarter.
With Harmony Grove in full control of the clock, the Cardinals stuck with the plan and added just nine points against Fountain Lake’s five in the second quarter to take a 17-7 halftime lead. Hendrix, once again, called for the last shot in the second quarter, running the clock down to under 30 seconds.
Both stalling attempts were nearly costly as Harmony Grove turned the ball over on both tries. But luckily, Fountain Lake could not take advantage despite getting two cleans shots off of both takeaways.
The third quarter was a different storyline line than the entire first half for both teams. Irritated at their first-half performance, the Cobras came out hot hitting a 3-pointer in the opening seconds of the third after Cardinals’ guard Gabe Richard made it 19-7 with two free throws. Back up just nine, Harmony Grove’s Bryce Sossamon drained a big 3-pointer to take back the double-digit lead, 22-10.
But the game was far from over. With 2:35 left in the third, 3-point shooting machine Sam Crutchfield sank one of his four 3-pointers to cut the contest to 22-17. After a made free throw from the Cardinals’ Mitch Scoggins, Crutchfield nailed another three, this one at the buzzer to cut the score to 23-20 Harmony Grove.
After being outscored 13-6 in the third, the Cardinals scathed off a ferocious comeback from the Cobras, winning 33-27. Harmony Grove outscored Fountain Lake 10-7 in the foul-filled fourth quarter.
The win not only moved the Cardinals on into the semis, Harmony Grove also earned a berth into the regional tournament that begins next week. The berth is the first for the Cardinals since 2009.
“This was something that we talked about and really wanted to do for our seniors,” Hendrix said. “We wanted them to experience this. We are pleased and happy, but when we wake up tomorrow, we want to still be hungry and come in here and give Episcopal our best shot.”
Harmony Grove did not have a scorer in double digits but did have two with nine. Sossamon went 3 of 3 from behind the arc for a team-high nine points. Big man Hayden Burchfield matched him with nine of his own. Harmony Grove also hit 12 of 20 from the free-throw line.
“I thought Burchfield and Sossamon played very well in the first half,” Hendrix said. “Those two 3-pointers (Sossamon) hit in the first half were so huge. Those were probably the two biggest plays of the game. I thought Burchfield finished well around the rim, too.”
One thing that was not plentiful, other than points, was the rebounding. Harmony Grove and Fountain Lake combined for 23 rebounds with the Cardinals snatching 16. Crutchfield led the Cobras with 12, followed by Andrew Freeman with 10. Fountain Lake attempted just three free throws in the game, hitting just one.
Harmony Grove will battle Episcopal, the host team, tonight with a chance to advance to the finals Saturday. The Wildcats have beaten the Cardinals twice already this season.
“We have got to be able to handle the basketball and handle their pressure,” Hendrix said. “It is the same story. They have so much speed and we are going to try and make it a half-court game. That’s a lot easier said and done. I feel like we haven’t played our best game against them yet and hopefully we can show up and do that tomorrow night.”
Episcopal has beaten Harmony Grove by an average of 14 points this season. Tipoff is set for 7:45 tonight.