NEWARK — If the Cedar Ridge Timberwolves boys basketball team had a secret weapon this season, it was this: Four of its starters have been practicing together for more than 10 years.
Brothers Cole and Cade Crabtree and Spencer and Austin Reaves have been friends since they were toddlers, and their bond comes through on the court. With both the Crabtree and Reaves brothers on the floor to start, Cedar Ridge defeated East Poinsett County 58-56 for the Class 2A state championship last weekend,
winning the game by just two points. It’s the school’s first state championship in basketball, coach Isaac Middlebrooks said.
“I was worried in the third and fourth quarter,” Middlebrooks said, “but we came back after being 13 down. I thought we might have run out of energy, but Spencer Reaves put us on his back.”
Spencer hit a 3-point shot at the third-quarter buzzer that Middlebrooks credits with turning the game around.
The win has been celebrated by the school and the Newark community continuously since Saturday, with lunches, dinners and pep rallies scheduled nearly every day. It’s a long way from where the team started at the beginning of the season, when Cole, Cade, Spencer and Austin were among the few who believed that they’d go far.
“We planned on it; no one believed us,” said Cole, 17. “They said last year was our year, and this was going to be a rebuilding year.”
With last year’s team heavy on seniors — eight graduated in 2012 — fans thought the team would go far, but suffer the following season. Instead, Middlebrooks said, the team peaked too early and didn’t perform as well at the end of the 2012 season.
But even among a large senior class, Cole Crabtree and Spencer Reaves stood out as sophomores. Their younger brothers, Cade Crabtree and Austin Reaves, were just in eighth grade, but Middlebrooks started working with them, too. By the end of the year, Middlebrooks knew all four brothers would start the following season.
“I knew I would have everybody back for two years,” Middlebrooks said. “I could keep the same lineup, and they all play well together.”
The Crabtree and Reaves boys have been friends since before they can remember, brought together for playdates by their parents, who often played softball together.
“We’ve been together ever since,” Cole said.
The brothers have come a long way since brawls over a Little Tikes hoop in the basement, but the competitive spirit has stayed the same.
“With your brothers, it’s a little more frustrating than somebody else on the team. … You want to see them do better than you do,” said Spencer, 17.
And is Spencer’s brother Austin, 14, better than he is yet?
“Not yet, but he’s not
gonna be,” Spencer joked.
The brothers said that playing together for so long has helped all of them be able to anticipate the others’ moves. At least they can most of the time. Earlier this season, Cole and Cade got tangled up on a pick, and Cade knocked his shoulder out of the socket. The injury took Cade, 15, out for eight games, but the brothers said there are no hard feelings.
“But it’s definitely his fault,” Cade joked.
Basketball came naturally for all four boys, who all had parents who played the sport in college. Spencer and Austin’s father played at Arkansas State, while Cole and Cade’s father played at Lyon College, and their mother played at Arkansas State.
“We had some hard-core games in the basement,” Austin said. “They bought us those Little Tikes hoops, and they just got higher and higher and higher.”
Fellow starter sophomore Nate Easley is often found playing with the brothers on weekends and during the summers as well.
“Nate is out at the house all the time, too,” Spencer said. “We all basically live together or hang out all the time. We can be playing 2-on-2 or 3-on-3, and a fight will break out because you want to win. We didn’t have that last year. Everyone on this team wants to win.”
Along with Easley, all four boys will return to play next season. Middlebrooks anticipates the team being just as strong as, and likely stronger than, it was this season.
“We’ll have a bull’s-eye on our back now,” Middlebrooks said. “I’ve got our schedule about as tough as it can be outside our conference. Win or lose, we’ll have a chance to show what we’ve got and to improve our skills.”
Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or firstname.lastname@example.org.