Sports: Quattlebaum and quarantine at Mustang Mountain

It’s been a bumpy start to this strangest of basketball seasons, but Central Arkansas Christian’s Lady Mustangs could be back in familiar territory by March.

After a season-opening 63-32 win at Heber Springs on Nov. 12, the team was quarantined for 14 days following a player’s positive COVID test.

Steve Quattlebaum has led the Lady Mustangs to state championships in 2005, ‘06, ‘07 and ‘18, and they’ve been stalwarts in the postseason during his 24 seasons at Mustang Mountain.

They returned to action last week in a 62-61 win at Mayflower, a Class 3A state semifinalist last season, in what could bode well for another long postseason run.

“That was a big confidence-builder because we knew how good that team is,” Quattlebaum said of the win over the Lady Eagles. “We won one just like that at our place last year. That might be a team we could see in the regional. I’d just as soon not play them, but if we have to, we might have a mental edge on them.”

Mayflower opened with a 12-0 run. The Lady Mustangs pulled within 16-12 after the first quarter but trailed at halftime, 33-24. But they won the third quarter, 19-9, to take the lead heading into the fourth. Senior Bethany Dillard scored 12 of CAC’s 19 points.

“We got the lead then we got down about four in the last two minutes, hit a 3 and they missed a free throw with 14 seconds left, and Dillard hit a layup with a few seconds left,” Quattlebaum said.

Dillard, who led CAC with 25 points against Heber Springs, signed with Union University in Jackson, Tennessee last month.

The Lady Mustangs improved to 3-0 on the season Tuesday with a 51-46 win over Episcopal Collegiate to start 3A-6 conference play.

Episcopal led after the first quarter, 17-14, but the Lady Mustangs won the second quarter to hold a 26-22 edge at halftime. The game was tied at 35 after three.

Dillard led CAC with 21 points, five rebounds and four assists after hitting 11 of 12 free throws. Ava Knoedl added 15 points and five rebounds. As a team, CAC made 19 of 20 from the foul line.

After the 2018 state title and the graduation of Christyn Williams, now at UConn, and her supporting cast, the Lady Mustangs lost in the opening round of the state tournament in 2019. They started slowly but put together a 20-game win streak, winning district and regional titles.

Last season, Dillard suffered a late injury.

“We just kind of struggled and lost our first conference game in 40 games at Episcopal,” Quattlebaum said. “Baptist (Prep) beat us at the buzzer at home, so we lost two conference games — the most we’ve lost in years.

“But we regrouped and won the regional after Dillard came back, beat Walnut Ridge in the first round of the state tournament and then drew the home team, Charleston, in the quarterfinals and got beat, 55-54.”

The Lady Mustang roster bidding to improve on that final eight finish includes one senior, three juniors and eight sophomores.

“If the sophomores can improve and provide some great support by the end of the year, we could be a very solid team,” Quattlebaum said. “The good thing is we have some talent and athleticism in the sophomore class who will probably fill one starting spot and provide all of our depth off the bench. We have a long history of having quality contributions off the bench, and by the end of the season, there is no doubt in my mind we will have it figured out.”

The Lady Mustangs are scheduled to resume conference play at Lisa Academy West (1-3) on Friday.