Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

SPORTS>>Raiders win state championship

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

The Riverview Raiders are the state basketball champions. In a year in which the team was supposed to be “pretty good”, the team turned out to be the best. It proved it Saturday night in the Summit Arena in Hot Springs when the Raiders beat the Hughes Blue Devils 71-60 in the Class 3A state championship game.

Hughes started hot and ran out to an 8-2 lead, and rallied late in the fourth quarter to make it interesting for a brief period, but Riverview controlled everything in between, as well as the waning moments, leaving little doubt who the state’s best 3A ball team was in the 2006-07 season.

After the Blue Devils took their early lead, Riverview took control. The Raiders finished the first quarter with a 14-1 run to finish the frame holding a 15-9 lead. After Dominique Baker’s three with 2:46 left in the quarter put Riverview up 9-8, the Raiders never trailed again.

Hughes was favored, but Riverview was actually better. Time and again the Raiders proved they weren’t really underdogs to anyone they played this year. After the game, an emotional Riverview starting five lined up along press row in the conference room, each one teary-eyed, because of what their team had accomplished, not only for themselves, but for their communities.

“I’m so proud of these kids,” Riverview coach Danny Starkey said. “Riverview is proud.”

That was evident all game long. The 3A boys game was the last of 14 state title games stretched over three days at the Summit. The crowd for the nightcap that ended at approximately 10 p.m., was, however, one of the loudest and rowdiest of all the games. The tone was set for the team as they prepared to leave for Hot Springs early Friday evening. A makeshift red carpet was rolled out for the players from the Riverview gym to the bus. Instead of going straight to Hot Springs, the team bus took detours to its two communities, with stops at Judsonia and Kensett elementary and middle schools. The atmosphere at both communities was one of joy and pride.

“First we went to our elementary and everyone was there, outside cheering for us,” Starkey said. “Then we went over to Kensett and it all happened there too. When they saw all the people, they realized it had really turned into a community thing. So I think the emotion after the game came from understanding that what they had done wasn’t just a team winning something. They had done something for their community, something that many more people than just themselves could be proud of.”

Senior all-purpose player Tony Hall was the MVP, scoring 35 points and having to play everything from post to point guard when starting point man Bo Banks picked up his third foul early in the second quarter.

But it was junior forward Josiah Overstreet that best exemplified the attitude of the team. Overstreet was only one of all the players that got on the court that played his heart out, but overcoming sickness during almost every break in the action, and getting back out there, is a good analogy for his team, according to Starkey.

“My goodness did Joe not run his guts out,” Starkey said. “He was sick all week, he was throwing up during timeouts, but he never asked to sit down. That was the kind of determination this team had. They brought an attitude into this game that said, ‘we are not going to lose this thing’.”

Further evidence that Riverview simply wanted it more was in the rebounding category. The vastly size-disadvantaged Raiders out-rebounded Hughes 37-28.

Spot-on shooting was a good sign the team was focused. The Raiders shot 51 percent from the floor for the game, but were nearly 70 percent in the second half, hitting 13 of 19 attempts, despite being completely out of gas late in the game.
Hughes rallied from a 60-46 deficit to within four at 62-58 with 1:11 left in the game. During the Blue Devil run, Riverview missed three of four free throws, including two front ends of one-and-one trips, and every miss was short. Starkey spotted the fatigue, and had the luxury of still having four timeouts left with 2:14 remaining in the game. He used three of them over the next 49 seconds.

After Hughes cut the margin to four, the rally ended with a horrible break for the Blue Devils.

Hughes fouled Overstreet, and got what it wanted when he missed the second of two free throws. The turning point came when Hughes post Katravis Anderson, under no pressure, inexplicably lost the rebound out of bounds.

The Blue Devils fouled Hall, who hit both shots to make it 65-58 with 60 seconds left. Hall hit eight of eight free-throw attempts in the final minute to seal the win.

Riverview took a 29-22 lead into halftime, and started the third quarter with a 9-0 run to make it 38-22 with 5:21 left in the third. The margin stayed in the 12-14-point range until Hughes started its rally late in the fourth.

Baker, who along with Hall played all 32 minutes of the game, finished with 12 points. Overstreet added 11. Lamarcus Banks scored seven, Bo Banks four and Thatcher Cooperwood two to round out Riverview’s scoring. Hall added a game-high 12 rebounds to his game-high 35 points.

Hall missed his first free-throw attempt of the game, but made 13 in a row the rest of the way. The 13 free throws made ties a state championship game record. Riverview finished the season with a 27-6 record, an undefeated conference record and conference championship, a regional tournament championship and state title.