The Dollarway Cardinals are building a strong case to be recognized as one of the best programs in the south.
The Cardinals have already earned victories over Pine Bluff, White Hall and Watson Chapel to be crowned “City Champions.” They also won the Zebra Invitational in December after defeating Tulsa McLain in the finals.
“That was a big win for us,” head coach Ellis Berry said. “Our confidence was real high after that.
“Anytime you can play with those guys and win, it was a big accomplishment for us.”
Currently riding a 13-game winning streak, including 4-0 in the 8-4A Conference, Dollarway is doing everything it can to not fold under the pressure.
“Yeah, there is pressure,” Berry said. “Everybody is shooting at you.”
Berry said the Cardinals have to keep the level of confidence up high and come out and play every time.
“Before we were kind of flying under the radar,” Berry said. “But now everybody know about us.
“We have a big bulls eye on our back, any night somebody can beat us.”
So far, Dollarway’s only loss was against Dumas at the beginning of the season. That night, the Cardinals only had seven players available as the school was still in the middle of the football playoffs.
Berry credits his success to the teams conditioning and to the team’s defense.
“We work hard on the defensive side of the ball, instead of relaying too much on offense,” Berry said. “You are trying to force turnovers, deflect passes and get steals.
“That is what we are relying on right now.”
In their last game, the Cardinals held the Stuttgart Ricebirds to single digits in the first, second and fourth quarters as they won 39-28.
Junior Kabion Ento led Dollarway with 12 points and DeAaron Adway contributed with nine points.
“Defense wins ball games for you,” Berry said. “We have offense. We just don’t want to rely on shooting the ball and not playing defense. We don’t want to trade basket for basket.”
Berry also credits his two assistant coaches, Booker Mays and Jay Jones, for the team’s success. He said he wouldn’t know where the team would be without them and it is their game plans that have kept them in games at times.
Last season, the Cardinals made to the semifinals of the state tournament. Berry hopes that the experience from last year will carry over for some of the seniors.
“We have a good senior group,” Berry said. “Most of these guys played last year and they know what it takes to win.”
Dollarway’s seniors are: Darieus Robinson, Davonne Chapman, DeAaron Adway, Nicholas Dickson, DeQuan Christmas, Lamarcus Hawkins, DeSean Brady and Jeremiah Young.
Berry said one of the surprises so far this season has been the team.
“They are playing well right now,” Berry said. “All of them. Our underclassmen are playing real well.
“We have some good depth that can relieve the guys that start.”
Junior Joshua Liddell and Ento have seen a lot of time of the bench, Berry said.
But one of the biggest weaknesses for Dollarway is the free throw shooting.
“Our free throw shooting is not where it needs to be,” Berry said. “We are shooting them very well at all.”
Berry said a lack of concentration is to blame for their poor performance from the line.
Even with all of their success so far, Berry and the Cardinals know they still have a long road ahead of them.
“There are a lot of good teams out there,” Berry said. “The conference that we are in is a good conference.
“It is going to be a big challenge to get back there.”
Berry said he wants to get back to the finals, but right now he is just focused on taking it ‘one game at a time.’
Dollarway will host Clinton on Friday.
“They are a good outside shooting team,” Berry said. “They are also a good free throw shooting team, so we have to keep them off the line.
“We will have to play real fundamental basketball with them and challenge every shot.”
Berry, who has been in basketball for 23 years, said the Cardinals will have to play their style of ball.
“We will have to be aggressive and push the ball down the floor,” Berry said.