As the calendar turned from late January to early February, the Salem Greyhounds chose this time to heat things up on the basketball court.
And it turns out the Hounds picked precisely the right time to get hot.
Salem closed out the 2-2A regular season with a pair of big conference wins and then rode that momentum straight into the district tournament at Walnut Ridge.
Not slowing down any, Salem knocked off Sloan-Hendrix and Cedar Ridge in the first two rounds of the tourney, punching the Greyhounds' ticket to the semi-final round, and also assuring Salem a spot in the regional tournament.
But the hot-shooting Cotter Warriors, the number two seed in the 2-2A District Tournament, was finally able to cool of Salem a bit, and topped the Greyhounds 75-58 in the semis Feb. 19 at Sharum Gymnasium on the campus of Walnut Ridge High School.
The Greyhounds still advanced to the regional tournament in Cedar Ridge, where they squared off with the East Poinsett County Warriors.
Cotter, playing its first game of the tourney, looked well-rested and came out firing from the outset, jumping to a quick 5-0 lead against the Greyhounds.
Kyle Cheek busted the first of his six big 3-pointers in the game for Cotter in the contest's opening minutes, and he would prove to be a thorn in the Hounds' side all evening long. Cheek finished with a game-high 20 points.
Shane Smith notched Salem's first hoop with a one-handed shot in the paint a minute-and-a-half into the game. Smith led the Greyhounds with 18 points.
The Warriors kept pushing the pace and deep into the first period, Cotter stood in front 16-6.
Steven Eubanks (nine points) closed the book on the first by banging in the first of his three triples in the game, pulling Salem to within 16-9 after one.
Eubanks opened the second like he closed the first, with a trey, but then Cotter exploded for 12 unanswered points, including two 3-pointers from Cheek, to push out to a 28-12 lead.
Salem re-grouped, caught its second wind, and chipped off the game's next seven points to keep Cotter from running away.
Smith hit a couple of hoops that surrounded a 3-ball from Dustin Ray that pulled the Hounds within nine, 28-19.
But in the last two minutes of the half, Cheek hit two more treys and Taft Lewis sank a layup to give the Warriors a 36-21 lead at intermission.
Cotter used the third period to extend this lead.
J.W. Blevins (11 points) hit a big trey to start a 7-0 run for Salem early in the third, but at the end of the frame, the Warriors had built a 52-32 advantage.
Salem couldn't cut much off this deficit down the stretch in the fourth and Cotter earned a trip to the 2-2A District Tournament finals with the 75-58 victory over the Greyhounds.
Jeremy Lance finished with seven points for Salem, while Clint Ray had four. Brandon Godfrey, Michael Beck and Clint Pleasant logged two points apiece for the Hounds.
In opening-round play Feb. 16, Salem cruised past Sloan-Hendrix 71-56.
Sloan-Hendrix led 15-13 after the first period, but Salem rallied to move ahead 27-23 at the half. Salem extended this advantage to 49-36 after three.
Smith led the way with 24 points. Blevins added 12 and Clint Ray hit for 10.
In the quarter-final round the next night, the Hounds nipped Cedar Ridge 59-56 behind a big 31-point effort from Smith.
The Lady Greyhounds fell to Midland 67-63 Feb. 16.
The Lady Mustangs held a 35-28 lead at the half.
Chelsea Maguffee paced Salem with 30 points in the game.
Laci Long added 10, Terra Kinder seven and Kelly Passmore six. Jamie Bell finished with five points, Stephanie McCullough had three and Bethany Pate two for Salem.