Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

SPORTS>>Raiders beat Ramblers, odds

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

The Riverview Raiders didn’t bother with predictions or forecasts. They played basketball to the best of their abilities, and it’s gotten them to the state championship game for the first time in school history. The Raiders qualified for the Class 3A state title game against the Hughes Blue Devils by beating rival Rose Bud for the fourth time this season, and the third time by just one point.

Riverview beat the Ramblers by 10 in Rose Bud in their first meeting, the last three have been settled by a single tally, including Saturday’s 43-42 win in the semifinals at Harrison.

The doubting began at the end of last season when All-Star, Division I signee Cory Cooperwood graduated, and took his 25 points and 13 rebounds per game with him after leading the Raiders to the semifinals. This year’s team didn’t start as quickly and doesn’t boast 30-plus wins like last year’s, but it has done two things that last year’s team didn’t do. It went undefeated through conference play, and it now has advanced to the state championship game.

The doubting began again when the Raiders struggled to close out the regular season, going down to the wire with teams they had beaten much easier earlier in the year. They went on to lose to Harding Academy in the district tournament, but put it back together to win the regional, including their second one-point win over Rose Bud, and take a No. 1 seed into state.
Many picked Riverview to fall out in the first round to a Lamar team that went 26-1 through the regular season, but stumbled in the regionals and entered state as a four seed. The Raiders handled the Warriors with little trouble, winning 62-47 in a game that wasn’t that close.

The quarterfinal matchup was certain to be the Raiders’ demise. It was a matchup against top-five ranked and tournament host Valley Springs. The vastly pro-VS crowd made up the most vocal of Riverview’s detractors, but not the only ones. The Raiders answered the challenge by knocking the hosting hopefuls out of the tournament by three points, 46-43.
Meanwhile, league foe Rose Bud was pulling off an even bigger upset by beating undefeated Prescott to force a fourth matchup with their arch nemesis.

The Ramblers got two open shots at the end of the game to beat Riverview, but couldn’t get either to fall, leaving the Raiders and the Blue Devils standing to determine state supremacy in the 3A classification. Riverview’s leading scorer Tony Hall was held to just 11 points by an outstanding Rose Bud defensive game plan, but even that didn’t stop the Raiders. Riverview coach Danny Starkey spoke about how that was another supposed weakness that his team had to overcome.

“Well we had so many doubting us for so many different reasons, everyone was sure that if you can stop Tony you can stop us,” Starkey said. “Well they pretty much stopped Tony, but we had other kids step up and make plays. We have other kids on this team that can play, and they did a great job of proving that. Tony is a great team player and he’ll do what he needs to do, even if he’s not scoring.”

Among those that stepped up was junior point guard Bo Banks. Banks is not normally looked to for point production, but dropped in 14 to lead the team in the semfinal thriller.

“He recognized what was going on, the way they were shadowing Tony, and he took his opportunities to capitalize on that and get to the basket,” Starkey said. “Dominique Baker is another kid that I think stepped his game up. He got us some important baskets. He drove to the basket at the right times. He made some great passes. Ben (Jones) stepped in there and played really well. Thatcher Cooperwood elevated his game and played smart. And Joe Overstreet, my goodness he plays hard, and he played as hard as he ever has Saturday.”

The Raiders and Blue Devils play the very last state championship games to close three days of title basketball at the Hot Springs Convention Center. The two teams are set to tip off at 7:45 p.m.