The Alma Airedales weren’t about to disappoint a packed crowd on Friday, even if they made it interesting at the end.
They missed four free throws in the final four seconds, but hung on for a 50-48 win against Vilonia.
The win cracked a fourth-place tie in the 5A-West with Vilonia and moved the Airedales into a tie for third with Harrison, which lost to Clarksville on Friday. Alma hosts Shiloh Christian on Tuesday and travels to Greenbrier next Friday in the final week of the regular season.
"They’re all must-have from here out when you’re fighting for a chance to go to the state tournament," Alma coach Stan Flenor said. "We didn’t approach it that way, but our young men are very smart but they know the meaning and the importance of each game. Conference play, and late season play, you just have to make plays. This team has continually done that."
Alma (15-8, 7-5) took a 47-40 lead off consecutive 3-pointers by Austin Lee with 2:47 left, but Vilonia’s Hayden Weaver answered with consecutive 3-pointers that sliced Alma’s lead to 47-46 with 1:40 left.
Alma milked the clock down and Lee hit two free throws with 39 seconds left. Cameron Wilkins, Vilonia’s leading scorer for the season, drove inside and hit a jumper with 16 seconds left.
Lee hit the second of a two-shot foul with 13 seconds left, then Vilonia failed to convert. The Airedales missed four free throws in the final four seconds.
"I know we missed some free throws, but we made plays down the stretch," Flenor said. "We got some big key rebounds. This team just grinds things out."
Vilonia, which knocked off Clarksville on Tuesday, jumped on Alma early.
"Vilonia came in and was playing well," Flenor said. "They’re a very talented team and a very good offensive team. They cause you a lot of problems in their zone with their length, and they did on both ends."
The Airedales missed three shots and turned the ball over on their first four possessions and Vilonia pounced for a 7-0 lead.
"We found a way," Flenor said. "We were down seven and chipped away at it. We found our footing in the second quarter, and battled back and forth. We came out and spurt in the third quarter, and go up by seven. We played real well in that stretch, offensively and defensively."
Alma took a 25-23 lead at the half on successive baskets by Braxton Anderson and Lee to end the half.
After Vilonia’s Wilkins tied the score early in the third quarter. Then Lee drilled a 3 off a dish from Braylon Parker, Parker converted a layup and Anderson added a putback as Alma took a 32-25 lead and kept it at 37-30 late in the quarter.
Vilonia (12-10, 6-6) fought back in the fourth quarter and was within one at 39-38 and 41-40 before Lee’s back-to-back 3-pointers.
Lee had 18 points for Alma, and Anderson added 16. Jake Folkerts had five points, 14 rebounds and five assists.
Wilkins led Vilonia with 14 points. Weaver came off the bench to score 12 points, all in the fourth quarter.
Vilonia 53, Alma 41 (Women’s)
The Lady Eagles won their 10th consecutive conference game and wrapped up at least a share of the 5A-West title with the win.
Vilonia (23-3, 11-1) never trailed, jumped to an 11-1 lead in the first five minutes and led 19-9 after a quarter.
Vilonia led 30-20 at the half, converting 11-of-22 from the floor.
Vilonia’s leading scorer, Audrey Moran, led the way with 11 of her 13 points in the opening half with three 3-pointers.
Cierra Rainwater led Alma (13-10, 6-6) with 13 points with three 3-pointers. Newton had five points and nine rebounds.