Too often, the much-anticipated championship game, in all sports, turns out to be anti-climatic. Perhaps the best game occurred in the semifinals, or, in some cases, the game was just a dud. But not in this case. The Arkansas Class 1A state championship between County Line and Marked Tree was a classic that will live forever in the minds of high school basketball fans everywhere.
It is well-documented that County Line entered the championship game with a perfect 44-0 record. That is amazing in itself; many programs don’t play 44 games in a high school season. And while some fans may question the strength of schedule for the Class 1A Indians, I will argue that it is tough to win 44 consecutive games at any level and at any classification. The pressure mounts with each game, and sometimes, “Lady Luck” has to intervene. No team can play its best game every time they take the court, and that to me is what makes County Line’s achievement so remarkable. They are a disciplined team that is very sound in basketball fundamentals, and their coach, Joe Brunson, is cool, calm, and collected….and his team reflects his personality.
How many times have you heard that good teams can win games when they are not playing their best in any particular game? That may have been the case last weekend in Hot Springs. And I certainly don’t want to take anything away from a talented Marked Tree team that played their hearts out and very easily could be the state champions today. But County Line was taken out of their game early on with the talented Marked Tree defense, and about half way through the third quarter, found themselves down by 11 points. Fans were curious to see how County Line would respond on the big stage when they had not been seriously challenged for much of the year, including the first three rounds of the state playoffs.
But in true championship form, County Line clawed back into the game by hitting free throws and reducing the deficit while the clock was stopped. Marked Tree, who had been scoring often from both inside the paint with their talented forward, Jonah Walker, and from outside the three-point arc, suddenly went cold late in the quarter and into the fourth. County Line’s energy on defense had increased from their play in the first half, and the Indians challenged the Marked Tree shooters on every attempt.
Marked Tree took a 21-15 lead into the locker room at the half, and County Line would have to make adjustments to stay in the game in the second. And that’s what the Indians did…Coach Brunson’s team stepped up their energy on both ends of the floor and outscored Marked Tree 18-12 in the third quarter to tie the game going into the fourth quarter. And the stage was set for a finsih tht people will talk about for generations.
The two teams went back and forth like heavyweight prize fighters in the fourth. County Line took a late lead, one of their few leads of the game, with less than 30 seconds remaining when Marked Tree was able to score and tie the game at 44 with less than 10 seconds remaining. Then, for some reason, and a question that people will have forever, the baseline on the Marked Tree end was left wide open, and having played tremendous defense all night. County Line’s Cooper Watson took the ball on the right side of the Indians’ offense and drove the baseline, shooting an underhanded layup with less than one second remaining to give County Line the state championship. Marked Tree appeared to call time out, and for whatever reason, that time out was not granted, and the clock expired. The County Line bench rushed the floor in celebration while the Marked Tree coaches screamed for a time out.
With Watson’s epic basket, County Line completed the most improbable season by winning 45 games and losing none…and most importantly, the state championship. The Indians’ Aundrae Milum was named Most Valuable Player, completing a sweep of what was a dream season in 2022-23 for the County Line basketball program.
Watch for a special championship edition of RNN’s Logan County Edition weekly newspaper next week. This special edition will have photos from the epic state championship game. Additional photos from the game will also be posted later this week on RNN’s “Team Press Pass” Facebook page (approximately March 16).
And if you have not yet subscribed to the Logan County Edition that serves all of Logan and Southern Franklin counties, you will certainly want to! To subscribe, just go to residentnewsnetwork.com and click on the “subscribe” link.
Congratulation to the County Line Indians for winning the state championship! Now, let the coffee shop stories begin!