How Braden Stein survived inside to help keep season going for Greenwood boys

Leland Barclay
Special to the Times Record

Braden Stein’s jersey was soaked in sweat, and his arms were red from an hour-and-a-half battle underneath the basket on Friday night.

Most of all, though, Stein was smiling after scoring 13 points and leading Greenwood to a 59-54 win against Alma in the first round of the 5A-West conference tournament at H.B. Stewart Arena.

“You’ve got to love games like this; a lot on the line, season on the line, lose and you’re done,” Stein said. “These are the kinds of games you just love to play.”

Stein, Greenwood’s 6-foot-6, 290-pound post player, and Nathan Whalen, Alma’s 6-7 post player, went toe-to-toe in a slugfest of football players; Stein an offensive lineman and Whalen a defensive lineman.

“I think he’s used to wrestling down there on the offensive line,” Greenwood coach Donnie Husband said. “I don’t think that was too surprising to him. He handled that pretty good. He got some, and he gave some.

"The officials did a good job of letting them play. They let them bang on each other. They competed.”

Greenwood advances to the second round on Monday at Siloam Springs. The winner will play in Tuesday’s semifinals and earns a berth in the state tournament.

The Bulldogs could have clinched the fourth seed with a win at home against Siloam Springs on Tuesday, but lost to force them to play a first-round game. Even more compelling was the opponent was going to be rival Alma in a winner-take-all game.

Greenwood won both regular-season games against Alma for the first time since 2004. Friday meant a third time for Stein to go against Whalen.

“Being the third time playing them, I knew what I was getting myself into,” Stein said. “It was tough. He’s a hard worker. He made me earn everything I got.”

Friday’s game was a rarity in that the two arch rivals met for the first time with such finality on the line since 2001, when they also played in a district tournament game.

“We were up to it,” Stein said. “We beat them twice already, and knew if we played our best that we had a really good chance. Greenwood-Alma has always been a big rivalry. It was a great win.”

Aiden Kennon scored underneath with 30 seconds left to put Greenwood up, 57-54. Alma missed a 3-pointer, and Evan Bartlett salted the win away with two free throws with 17 seconds left.

Kennon scored 15 points, and Caleb Ligon, Bartlett and Stein each scored 13.

Tuesday, against Siloam Springs, Stein had 13 points, seven rebounds and six blocks. Friday, he had five rebounds and a block to to with his 13 points.

“I’m proud of how well he played and how far he’s come,” Husband said. “Except for a minute, he played the whole game. I’ve not let him do that before."

Jacob Coursey led the Airedales with 19 points, while Whalen had 11 points and six rebounds.