BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
After a week when it took down some of the state’s best Class 6A squads, Springdale has one last Goliath to conquer.
The Red Bulldogs (25-8) will face traditional power Jonesboro (29-3) Friday at 1:45 p.m inside the Hot Springs Convention Center.
The Golden Hurricane are riding a 14-game winning streak.
“They are traditionally a very good basketball program,” Springdale head coach Jeremy Price said. “(Jonesboro head) Coach (Wes) Swift does an incredible job. They are well-coached and his teams don’t hurt themselves and are very good defensive team.
“We will have to play another A game. If you play a B-plus game, you are probably going to get beat.”
Price has led his Red Bulldogs to the state tile game for the first time as a head coach after doing so as a player in 1998 and an assistant coach in 2014, albeit losing in both outings.
Springdale downed Conway, Bentonville West and Little Rock Central last week to advance to the championship game.
“We knew it was going to be difficult because we had West and Central on our side of the bracket,” Price said. “I think we probably played an A game in all three of those wins.
“It helped that we got off to a good start against Conway. I think that really helped us moving into the Central game and, as you know, winning and getting momentum, you start to feel like you are just going to win every game you play.
“I think we saw enough good things happen on both ends of the floor that we just gained a lot of confidence along the way.”
Price was hopeful of a state tournament run when the season started and alternately cautiously optimist and not so sure at other times.
That included going just 5-4 in its last nine regular season games.
“I think we thought was a possibility, but in some of the more trying times of the season, it definitely felt out of reach,” Price said. “We just kind of all got on the same page at the same time before the state tournament and thought ‘you know, we can do this.’”
“I think we just had more urgency to defend, to pay more attention to the scouting report, to execute the game plan. We just paid attention to detail a whole lot more than we had throughout the year.”
“And our two scorers just took their game to another level. So it was a combination of all of those things.”
The aforementioned scorers are the sophomore duo of Courtland Muldrew (6-3) and Isaiah Sealy (6-6), both Division I prospects who each have several college offers already.
“It hasn’t always been smooth and easy because they are young,” Price said. “They have a ton of confidence, but there have also been parts of their game that they don’t know or still aren’t good at.
“Over time they have added some things and kind of figured what works and doesn’t work. Physically their bodies have changed a lot, too. That adds even more confidence for what they can do.
“They are both kind of coming into their own a little bit at just the right time. They are going to have very successful basketball careers and play a lot of big-time basketball.”
Seniors Tevin Tate (6-5, 255) and Carson Tangness (6-4, 170) have provided size and been stabilizing forces for Springdale.
“Tevin Tate, he’s been a staple for us,” Price said. “He was a starter last season for us and is a big key for us because we can get the ball into his hands and he plays pretty well with his back to the basket. He is a great ball screener as well so he just kind of adds another layer to our attack.”
Tangess has been a key on both the offensive and defensive ends per Price.
“He is another senior that has really shot the ball well for us and he can also guard one through three for us and sometimes even a four.
“It is really hard to take him off the floor because of how he spaces the floor as a shooter and he is a really smart defender.”
Price noted it is a great time to be the head coach of his alma mater with the current success and moving into a new arena next season.
“Anytime that your are making a run in the state tournament, it is an exciting time and there is a buzz in the air,” Price said. “A lot of people have reached out and been very supportive. It’s great that this is happening at my alma mater and getting to play here and know coach is just very special.
“…I have a lot of sentimental attachments to the old arena, but I think it is going to be great for our school and our student and players when we get in our new arena. So it has been a little bittersweet, but we feel like we are trending in the right direction.
“I really want Springdale to be a basketball school and have consistent success. In high school sports, it is hard to do that, but we are in a good place currently.”
Photo courtesy of Springdale Basketball