The hometown Hope Bobcats provided a strong run to return to compete in the Class 5A boys state basketball tournament hosted at Panther Arena in Magnolia. Despite falling short of victory as a No. 1 seed to No. 4 seed Sylvan Hills Bears 66-49 in first round play earlier this week, the Cats finish the season as 5A South Conference Tournament champions for 2016-17 season.

The hometown Hope Bobcats provided a strong run to return to compete in the Class 5A boys state basketball tournament hosted at Panther Arena in Magnolia. Despite falling short of victory as a No. 1 seed to No. 4 seed Sylvan Hills Bears 66-49 in first round play earlier this week, the Cats finish the season as 5A South Conference Tournament champions for 2016-17 season.

With momentum going into the state tournament, the Bobcats competed tough and stayed close early against Sylvan Hills in first round action. Senior Marcus Blakely scored the game's first basket at the 7:30 mark that would give Hope their first lead of the game 2-0. Sylvan Hills came back to regain the lead with back to back baskets to lead Hope 4-2. Senior guard Clyde Ricks drained a trifecta from behind the arc to put the Bobcats ahead 5-4 at the 5:56 mark in first quarter action. The game would showcase a scoring spree of baskets from both ball clubs down to the 3:15 mark in the first quarter.

TD Walton kept the Bobcats in the game by knocking down a trifecta and hitting 2 of 3 at the free-throw line after being found on an three-pointer attempt with Hope trailing 14-12. Sylvan Hills swished a trey then scored a basket to put them ahead 19-12 with 20 second left to play in the first period. Walton finished the first quarter completing a four-point play after fouled on a 3-pointer made and hitting the free-throw to cut Hope's deficit at 19-16 to end first period action.

In the second quarter, the Bobcats sparked for seven points scored with Walton, big Desmond McDonald and Markel Haynie all contributing baskets for Hope. Sylvan Hills posted in double-digits in the second with 13 points and led at the break 32-23 at halftime against Hope.

In the second half, the Cats would come out the locker room with a nine point scoring period in the third. Haynie led the surge with seven points and Keith Brown added a basket. The Bears also added nine points in the third and both teams held each other defensively under double-digit scoring, but Sylvan Hill maintained an 43-32 lead going into the fourth quarter.

For the final period of action, the Bobcats kept their fight strong to spark for 17 points scored in the fourth. Walton drained two trifecta's and Rick swished one trey from behind the arc. Haynie posted a slam dunk with two baskets scored and JaBre Martin split a pair of free-throws for two trips at the foul line for Hope's scoring in the fourth. The Bears showcased their highest scoring quarter of the game with 23 points scored in the fourth that led them to victory and to advance, which ended the Bobcats season.

For the game, Bobcats' Haynie led scoring with 21 points and Walton finished with 16 points for double-figures. Ricks scored six points, Brown, Martin Blakely and McDonald each had two points apiece.

The Bobcats shot 37 percent from the field, 30 percent behind the arc (3-point) and 55 percent at the foul line hitting 11 of 20 free-throws. The Cats snatched 18 offense rebounds and 17 defensive rebounds for 30 total rebs., dished out four assists, had six steals and three blocks.

This season, the Bobcats produced one of the best years in hoops for their senior high basketball program under veteran head coach Sam Bradford with assistant coach Jonathan Turner. It's been over a decade since the Bobcats entered into the state tournament as a No. 1 seed that earned them the conference tournament title for the first time in 5A South Conference.

Bradford said after their historic victory against ranked Hot Springs in the conference tournament championship game, "This group is over achievers and I'm proud of this bunch as I have of some of our other teams we've had."

The Bobcats overcame a 15 point deficit going into the fourth quarter and chopped their way back down to the wire with execution offensively and defensively to defeat the talented Spa City hoopsters to be crown the newly 5A South Conf. tourney champs. Hot Springs held the crown for the previous two seasons and now the hometown Cats reign with the title and momentum going into the state tournament.

This season, the Bobcats showcased impressive victories that saw them prevail over three ranked opponents this season with two from Class 6A Lake Hamilton and Arkansas High. The Bobcats only had one loss at home this season against top-ranked El Dorado, but topped Hot Springs, Magnolia, New Boston, Texas, Hot Springs Lakeside, Lake Hamilton and Arkansas High. For one of the extraordinary home wins against De Queen (63-13), the Cats held them scoreless for entire first half of basketball with Hope winning by 50 points at Jones Field House Gymnasium.

The Bobcats also went 2-1 in tournament play at New Boston, Texas and 3-2 at Paris, Texas. They rolled onto two impressive winning-streaks of six consecutive victories and four going into the state tournament.

Hope finishes their year of hoops at 19-10 overall, 10-6 in conference for consecutive back to back seasons as state tourney qualifiers.