The game drew the biggest crowd of four championship finals Thursday night. The runs had been traded, the momentum shifting left and right, and it was a four-point game with 2 minutes to go.
Dollarway, which had led Pottsville by as many as seven points, wasn’t going to let the 4A state boys basketball championship slip away so easily. But it was no time to panic.
“We’re not a team that panics,” senior DeQuan Christmas said. “We keep playing hard until the buzzer sounds.”
The Cardinals made heroic plays in the final moments to try and stay within a possession, but only scored one basket in the final 1:41 of their 54-50 loss at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock. Still, Pottsville committed 15 turnovers to Dollarway’s 10, while the Cardinals had nine steals to the Apaches’ 4.
Joshua Liddell tried to play the hero at first. After he made a jump shot to close Pottsville’s lead to 50-48, he deflected the inbound pass and got it to touch a Pottsville recipient last before going out of bounds, giving the Cards back the ball. But seconds later, Davonne Chapman was called for traveling.
Then the Cards forced the Apaches in a backcourt violation. Dollarway didn’t capitalize, and Tyler Weaver hit two free throws to give Pottsville a four-point lead.
It was 53-50 after Chapman scored on a putback with 19 seconds to go. The Apaches could all but put the game away with two more free throws.
They shot well from the line to start the game, but missed a few in the final moments. Luke McAnaulty’s two misses with 15.1 ticks remaining gave the Cards life.
“I think a couple of guys were tasting that ring a little bit,” Pottsville point guard Michael Perry said of the misses.
Dollarway could still see the ring for a moment. But Perry took the prize away when he stole a cross-court pass near midcourt, forcing the Cards to foul with 9.1 seconds left. He made 1 of 2 free throws on his trip.
“I saw him pick up the dribble,” Perry said. “We didn’t really react to them 24-7, and we knew they were quick and athletic. So as soon as I saw him react, I tried to react just as quick and got the steal.”
With that, Pottsville finally closed the season with a championship, having come up one point short each in a district semifinal and regional final.
“I really think those games set us up for this,” Perry said. “They prepared us, and we knew this was going to be close. We decided to finish this one.”
Dollarway, which had won 12 straight before Thursday, had trouble finishing short-range shots in the fourth quarter, when it made 4 of 21 field goals. The Cards went 4 ½ minutes without scoring in the period, but never trailed by more than five points.
“The shots we normally make weren’t falling,” Cards junior Kabion Ento said. “That was the biggest problem.”
The game was the final shot at a championship for nine Dollarway seniors and might have closed coach Ellis Berry’s career. He said after Thursday’s game he is considering retirement after more than three decades working in the Dollarway School District, including the past 22 years as the Cardinals’ head coach.
Whatever he decides, the Cards will replenish for next season with a group moving up from Dollarway’s 2-4A District junior high championship team. And Ento and Liddell will help lead the charge as seniors.