Coach Dan Garringer and the Mountainburg Lady Dragons half expected to be playing in last season’s 2A state championship. A tough regional loss to Bigelow and a second-round loss to eventual 2013 state champion Marmaduke put those plans on hold.

Seniors Tara Webb and Auburn Peters hope to finish what former players Maddy Backus, Kelsey Nelson and Destiny Webb started today when Mountainburg (32-2) and Spring Hill (34-0) meet today at 11 a.m. at Summit Arena in Hot Springs. Both teams are seeking their first-ever state championships.

The Lady Dragons left Mountainburg for Hot Springs Friday morning amid a throng of fans clad in Dragon Blue.

“This is a big deal for our community and I couldn’t be happier for them,” Garringer said.

Playing in the 2A state championship is big news at Spring Hill as well, said coach Laura Kidd. A Spring Hill graduate, Kidd has coached at Spring Hill for the past 18 seasons.

She knows what she’s up against.

“They’re (Mountainburg) very well coached,” Kidd said. “We’re not sure what they’re going to do, but for us, we’re going to do what we do — we want a fast-paced game.”

Spring Hill isn’t necessarily top-heavy with size, Garringer said. But they’re quickness will no doubt present some potential matchup problems.

Senior Rachel Medina (Central Arkansas Baptist) is the team’s leading scorer, and Jamie Nanice had 19 points and 21 rebounds in the team’s 75-47 semifinals win over Marmaduke.

“They have a really good point guard (Medina) and they have a girl (Nance) that reminds everybody of a left-handed Tara; very athletic and long,” Garringer said. “They turn you over and turn that into points. It’s going to be difficult. they’re not 34-0 for any reason. I told the girls, ‘We don’t have to beat them 10 times, we just have to beat them once.’

“If we can get the tempo going our way and not turn it over, I think we have an excellent chance.”

Spring Hill is 64-2 the last two seasons.

“We’ve not very big, but work really hard,” Kidd said. “We share the ball really well.”

The Lady Dragons have won 25 straight games since losing to Mulberry (34-31) in the finals of the Lavaca Tournament in December. Mountainburg is 59-7 over the last two seasons, with three of those losses (Northside, Greenland and Marmaduke) coming to eventual 2013 state champions.

Kaylyn Moore (15.4 points per game) has surpassed Webb as the team’s leading scorer. Webb (14.5 ppg) usually draws a double-team, but has still managed to score 930 points the last two seasons.

“We’re not exactly chopped liver,” Garringer said. “(But) we’re going to have to play well, but we’ve got a shot, and these kids have put themselves in position by accepting their role.”

The 66-year-old Garringer, who has coached in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, dating back to 1970, has won only one state championship — a state baseball title at Joplin, Mo. in 1984.

Garringer has spent the majority of his 43 years coaching basketball. And, though he’s had plenty of good players, including a phenomenal run of Mountainburg players, today is his first championship game.

“This year, the stars were aligned,” Garringer said. “In our classification, there are 64 schools; getting here is difficult. Last year, we had to play Marmaduke at Marmaduke. Three years ago we lost to Buffalo Island on their home floor as well.”

Garringer and the Lady Dragons were able to take that next step Tuesday night with the help of Peters’ observation.

“Auburn came up me at halftime and said what if we put Colette (Ross) on (Brinkley’s Lauren Carroll),” Garringer said. “We were ahead 21-20, and she (Carroll) had scored all 20 of their points. Auburn shrugged her shoulders and I said, ‘Let’s try it.’

“Colette really got in her grill, and with 1:38 left in the third quarter she (Carroll) hadn’t scored yet in the second half.”

Carroll became to flustered she drew two technical fouls and an automatic ejection.

“That was Auburn’s idea,” Garringer said. “That’s leadership. To me, that’s what coaching’s all about — for them to take leadership.”