Eagles face Trinity in Class A semifinals

Published 12:04 pm Friday, February 18, 2011

BENTON — Back in the 1980s and 90’s, Porters Chapel Academy was a respected and feared basketball powerhouse. It won two MAIS Class A championships, dominated its district and even held its own against Class AAA titans like Jackson Academy and Hillcrest.

That, of course, was the girls’ team. The boys’ team has long been an afterthought, simply something to do between football and baseball seasons. Its state tournament victories can be counted on one hand with a couple of fingers to spare.

With one Cinderella run, however, the current group of Eagles are threatening to make PCA a basketball school once again. A No. 4 seed entering the 2011 Class A tournament, PCA (15-9) has pulled off a pair of second-half comebacks and stands two wins away from an improbable state championship. The road continues tonight at 7:15, when PCA faces Trinity in a semifinal game at Benton Academy.

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“It’s great. I didn’t think myself we were going to make it this far,” Kawayne Gaston, PCA’s leading scorer, said after Wednesday’s 50-47 quarterfinal victory over DeSoto School. “When we were on the way here tonight, we knew we belonged. I feel 98 percent that we’re fixing to take it home. We just can’t get the big head. We’ve got to play team ball and work on starting like we finish.”

Gaston’s last thought wasn’t a confused one. Poor performances have plagued PCA throughout its postseason run, often in the first half. In two second quarters at the state tournament, PCA has gone a combined 3-for-24 from the field — an abysmal 12.5 percent clip — and committed 11 turnovers. In two second halves, it has shot 50.9 percent and committed 11 turnovers.

The bad second quarters dropped the Eagles into a 15-point hole against Tri-County and a seven-point hole against DeSoto. The strong second halves, when they outscored the two opponents 79-46, saved their season.

“I just think we’re very inconsistent. It seems like it’s a different quarter every night. There’s going to be one quarter every game where the light switch turns off and we go into overload,” PCA coach E.J. Creel said. “Early on, we wouldn’t have been able to overcome that. Now we can.”

Creel knows plenty about how rare an opportunity is in front of the Eagles. She led the school’s girls team to the Class A championship game against Delta Academy as a player in 1999, but the Lady Eagles squandered a second-half lead and lost. They made a few more trips to the state tournament in subsequent years, when she became PCA’s career scoring leader, but never got that close again.

The girls’ program gradually fell off in the 2000s, turning the championship signs in the school’s gym to fading relics. The boys’ program now has a chance to restore some of the luster, and has given Creel a different path to a title. Getting this close, she doesn’t want to let it slip away again.

“I knew we were going to be decent, but I really didn’t think we’d go this far,” Creel said. “Now, do I want more? Of course. I don’t want to settle for third or fourth at this point.”

Neither do her players.

“We made it this far, we might as well take it all,” point guard Peter Harris said with a laugh.