You don't open the basketball season with 22 straight wins without having an abundance of talent on your side.
You also don't go 22-0 without having a healthy dose of luck on your side, as well.
In the semi-finals of the boys' A-AA brackets at the Northeast Arkansas Invitational Tournament, the Cedar Ridge Timberwolves certainly had both elements on their side -- talent and luck.
Brady Batson, Cedar Ridge's senior point guard, drove the length of the court and dropped in a layup in traffic as the final horn sounded, to give the Timberwolves a thrilling 43-42 overtime win over the Izard County Cougars Dec. 27 at the Convocation Center in Jonesboro.
This bit of overtime drama was also almost overshadowed in the dwindling seconds of regulation by Izard County's Chase Massey.
Saddled with foul problems since early in the game, Massey was forced to sit on the bench for extended portions of the contest, keeping the junior guard from getting into any kind of rhythm.
But when the chips were down, Massey came through big-time.
With third-seeded Cedar Ridge up by three points with seven seconds left in the fourth, Massey (nine points) pulled up and drilled a 28-foot trey that splashed through the net as the buzzer sounded, sending the game into overtime knotted at 39-all.
Massey than gave Izard County, runners-up to Riverside in last year's A-AA championship game and the number two seed this year, a 41-39 lead with two free throws to start overtime.
Batson locked the game at 41-all with 1:09 left in OT, before Scott Small gave Izard County a 42-41 advantage with a free throw after he was fouled trying to stick back his own miss with seven ticks left.
However, Batson had just enough time to grab the rebound of a missed free throw, travel downcourt and toss the ball up over two Izard County defenders for the game-winning shot for the Timberwolves.
But if Cedar Ridge is indeed living a charmed life halfway through this basketball season, it surely used two of its nine lives against the Cougars.
Izard County (18-3) was up 36-33 thanks to a pair of free throws from Massey with 39 seconds left in the fourth period when the Timberwolves found their magic.
Josh Bridgman drained a corner trey with 21 seconds on the clock and then Nick Jackson stole the Cougars' ensuing inbounds pass and was fouled. Jackson went to the line and hit a pair of free throws to give Cedar Ridge a 38-36 lead.
Five points in three seconds, going from two down to two up. Now that's leading a charmed life.
A charity toss from Jordan Halter extended the Timberwolves' lead to 39-36 before Massey uncorked his long triple that sent the game into an extra frame.
Izard County's plan early in the first period was to get the ball down low to Small and Spencer Caraway, and the Cougars' two big men delivered by scoring all of Izard County's 12 first-period points.
Caraway (11 points) opened the game with the Cougars' first two hoops of the afternoon.
With Izard County down by six points late in the first, a baseline bucket by Small (nine points) pulled the Cougars within four, 16-12, after one.
Cedar Ridge continued to expand on this lead in the second, but Kyle McCandlis (nine points) pulled the Cougars out of an eight-point hole right before the half.
McCandlis hit a jumper and then followed that with a 3-ball to edge the Cougars within three, 24-21 at intermission.
Izard County came out of the halftime locker room energized and got down to business early in the third.
Dustin Noblin sank a backdoor layup on the offensive end and Izard County stepped up on the defensive end.
Small swatted away a shot attempt by Halter and on their next possession, the Timberwolves threw the ball away against Izard County's pressure defense.
This led to a hoop from McCandlis that gave the Cougars a 25-24 lead.
This lead turned out to be brief, however, as Cedar Ridge scored the last two hoops of the third to move in front 31-27.
The Timberwolves looked a bit on the shaky side in the early stages of the fourth, as Cedar Ridge started the final frame with two turnovers, a missed shot and a blocked shot by Caraway.
But in the end, the Timberwolves managed to do just enough to overcome Massey's huge blow late in the fourth by countering with a big play from Batson in overtime, to punch Cedar Ridge's ticket to the championship game.
And once in the title game, Cedar Ridge didn't stop its roll.
The Timberwolves made it 24 wins in a row as they knocked off the two-time defending champs Riverside, 61-53, Dec. 30 in the title game.
Cedar Ridge also won the Lyon College Invitational earlier in the month.