NEWARK — For the last two years, basketball season at Cedar Ridge High School in Newark has been a “Brother Act.”
Two sets of brothers, Spencer and Austin Reaves and Cole and Cade Crabtree, have been in the lineup as the Timberwolves have won back-to-back Class 2A state championships — the first athletic state titles in the history of the school, which was born about 10 years ago with the consolidation of Newark, Oil Trough and Cord-Charlotte.
“They make my job easier,” said coach Isaac Middlebrooks, who has won state titles in two of his first four seasons with the Timberwolves. “They’ve grown up playing together. [The Reaveses’ parents] both played at Arkansas State, and the Crabtree dad played at Arkansas College (now Lyon College), and the mom was a real good ballplayer.
“There’s a lot of good genetics in that group.”
Spencer Reaves, a 6-3 senior guard, scored 23 points and pulled down 9 rebounds in Cedar Ridge’s 64-40 championship-game win over Clarendon at Hot Springs’ Summit Arena and earned his second straight tournament MVP award. Cole Crabtree, a 6-3 senior forward, added 14 points. Austin Reaves, a 6-3 sophomore guard, and Cade Crabtree, a 6-3 sophomore forward, scored 11 points each.
The other starter, Nate Easley, a 5-9 junior center, is “the best role player in the state,” Middlebrooks said.
“He doesn’t get enough credit for the job he does,” the coach said.
Spencer Reaves called his championship experiences “definitely a blessing.”
“Some people don’t win a state championship at all, and I got to win two with someone I live in the same house with,” he said. “It’s one of those things that will be with me the rest of my life. And the Crabtree brothers — I’ve been around them since I was 2 or 3, and I consider them my brothers, too. And you can’t forget old Nate.”
It’s been a remarkable four-year run for Middlebrooks, 31, who grew up in Viola and played basketball at North Arkansas College in Harrison and the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville. Since his arrival, the Timberwolves are 131-14 (35-3 in 2013-14, 33-4 in 2012-13, 32-2 in 2011-12 and 21-5 in 2010-11).
Cedar Ridge won conference and district finals that first season but was “out-physicaled” against Riverside in an overtime loss in the regional tournament.
With everyone, including two all-staters, back in season 2, the Timberwolves won their first 30 games, including district and state titles, but again fell in the first round of the regional, to Concord.
Middlebrooks said the team peaked at the wrong time and had to watch as Cedar Ridge hosted the state tournament.
But with Austin Reaves and Cole Crabtree back as juniors last year, Middlebrooks moved up the freshmen brothers to the varsity.
“That year we peaked at the right time and won our last 20 games,” the coach said. “We started two freshmen, a sophomore (Easley) and two juniors. They hate to lose; they’re really competitive, no matter what they’re doing.”
The first title came with a championship victory against East Poinsett County, with Malik Monk, one of the most highly recruited prospects — even as a sophomore.
With the trophy, the win brought high expectations for the Timberwolves this season.
They got off to a hot start, as expected, but lost two games — and Spencer Reaves — in the Hurricane Classic, where Class 6A Jonesboro “beat us as bad as they wanted to,” Middlebrooks said.
Spencer sprained an ankle and had to miss several games. Without him, Brookland beat the Timberwolves at the buzzer and went on to win the Class 4A state title.
Two games later, Austin Reaves tore the labrum in his shooting arm. Without either of the Reaves brothers and with just six players, Cedar Ridge fell to Salem by 4.
“But after that, we won our last 19 games,” Middlebrooks said.
Austin missed nine games and continued to be plagued by shoulder troubles the rest of the season.
“Every other week he dislocated it,” Middlebrooks said. “He came back right before the district tournament; then the Monday of the regional, he dislocates it in practice. He didn’t get the OK to play until four hours before we played. Then the day before we played England in the state semifinals, he dislocates it again after he rolled over on it during the night. But he’s as tough as they come. He’s not very big, but he’s tough.”
For the year, Spencer Reaves averaged 24 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists per game. Cole Crabtree had 18 points and 11 rebounds per outing, Cade Crabtree averaged 10 points, and Austin Reaves averaged 9 points and 7 assists. Easley averaged 4 points and drew 39 charges for the season.
“About every five games, he’d get about 10, but if he got four or five, that was good for us,” Middlebrooks said of Easley. “He always guarded the other team’s best post player, even though he gave up 3 or 4 inches.”
The coach said it was very gratifying to repeat the championship because his team handled the pressure so well.
“Sometimes they acted like they were scared they’d let somebody down,” he said. “The first year, when nobody expected it, it was a good feeling. This year we had that feeling, now that it’s over, ‘We did it.’ Watching my kids before the [championship] game, we were focused.”
Spencer Reaves agreed that the second time was tougher than the first.
“Last year we flew under the radar the first part of the season, but after winning and returning every starter, everyone was gunning for us, and we had a big target on our backs,” Spencer said.
While calling the MVP award “definitely an honor” and something he’d worked hard for, he was quick to share the credit.
“I couldn’t do it without my brother passing me the ball, and Nate setting screens and Cole getting open shots and Cade finding me on the break when I’m open,” Spencer said. “It wasn’t one on one every time. I have to give my teammates credit.”
With Cole Crabtree having signed with Lyon College and Spencer Reaves considering several offers, the remaining Timberwolves are now aiming for a three-peat.
With three starters returning and a pair of rising juniors (5-8 guard Keegan Harrison and 6-0 forward Zach Powell) who got significant playing time as sophomores, it’s a real possibility. Austin Reaves had shoulder surgery and will rehab until early August.
“Then I’ve got three or four who will be sophomores who’ll have a chance at playing time,” Middlebrooks said. “But we’ve got to make that jump to [Class] 3A next year. We took a month off after the season, and we’ve been going 45 minutes on the floor and 35 or 40 minutes in the weight room. We’re trying to get healthy and get stronger.”
Spencer Reaves said he hopes his championship experiences will inspire future generations of Timberwolves.
“Maybe some little kid watching in the stands will say, ‘Hey, I want to do that,’ and that’ll encourage kids to get in the gym more, to practice harder and maybe be successful when they get to the varsity level,” he said.