For a while, it seemed as if the Dollarway Cardinals were unbeatable on the basketball court. Then they lost on their home floor to Lonoke on Jan. 24.
But that was just one loss after 17 straight wins. They’ve been playing like an unbeatable team again, and their current streak of 12 victories has carried them right into Barton Coliseum for tonight’s 4A state championship game against the Pottsville Apaches.
At 29-2, the Cardinals have taken the next step after last season’s state semifinal finish, and it’s no surprise given their consistent play this season.
They have proven themselves against cross-town rivals, out-of-state competition and new conference foes. They pulled off a rare season sweep of Pine Bluff, Watson Chapel and White Hall, declaring themselves “city champions”.
They also ran through their first season in the 2-4A Conference with a near-perfect record and have added the 2-4A District and East Region championships to their trophy case.
Just as impressive as their resume is that the Cardinals have won without more than one player averaging double-figure scoring. Through the district tournament, senior forward Davonne Chapman (15.3 points per game) was the only Dollarway player scoring more than 10 per game.
“No one in region or district could match up with Davonne Chapman,” Dollarway coach Ellis Berry said. “When he comes ready to play and we get the ball to him, he’s a mismatch. He’s the main focus on offense for us.”
Dollarway has proven this season any player other than Chapman can have the hottest hand at any time. Senior Jeremiah Young and junior Kabion Ento took up the scoring slack when Chapman missed some games in the middle of the season. They give him a strong supporting cast in the frontcourt, while seniors DeAaron Adway, Nicholas Dickson and DeQuan Christmas bring athleticism to the backcourt, as does junior Joshua Liddell.
The offense hasn’t always come in huge numbers for Dollarway, especially in this postseason. They haven’t scored more than 52 points in their past seven games.
“Most of our points will come from Chapman most of the time, but we know we’re not just going to have a great shooting night every time,” Ento said. “We have to be willing to let anybody and everybody score and let everybody to shoot their open shots because we expect everybody to knock down their shots because everyone on this team can score.”
But Berry said he has no concerns with his team’s play on that side of the ball.
“The other team is slowing down on us and we’re trying to speed them up,” Berry said. “We’re taking what they give us. That’s the only thing we have to do.”
The Cards, instead, point to their defense as their key to success. Tonight, they’ll find out if it’s good enough to deter a Pottsville team that’s been playing with high energy after a 56-54 triple-overtime win against Monticello and 61-42 victory over Pocahontas in the state tournament.
Berry said he didn’t know much about Pottsville, but judging from what he saw in the tournament, he called the Apaches “a good ballclub.”
“They have a real good point guard,” said Berry, who couldn’t identify the player. “Everything revolves around him and they’ve got some pretty good inside players. When they try to penetrate, they dish it to him.”
Pottsville coach Shane Thurman credited balanced scoring and stingy defense as keys to its semifinal win over Pocahontas, according to the Russellville Courier. Michael Perry scored 13 points, Chris Albin 12 and Travis Cole 11 for the Apaches in the win.
“The game plan is to keep pressure on the guard, know where he is all the time, don’t let him penetrate in the lane, (and) make sure we’ve got a hand in his face on his shot everytime,” Berry said.
Thurman couldn’t be reached Wednesday for an interview.
The Apaches hope they can cap the season with a championship after narrow losses in other postseason games. They lost their 4-4A District semifinal 50-49 to Subiaco Academy, but bounced back to reach the North Region final, where they dropped a 74-73 decision to Maumelle.
A championship would come at a good time for Dollarway, which played in its first state title game 25 years ago (a loss to Trumann). This is the school’s fourth title game appearance, following a 1996 loss to Hamburg and 2006 win over Little Rock Christian.
Christmas has in his mind how the Cards can bring home championship No. 2 against Pottsville.
“Match up, push the ball down the court, play Dollarway ball,” he said.
4A STATE BOYS BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP: DOLLARWAY (29-2) vs. POTTSVILLE (26-6)
8:45 tonight • Barton Coliseum, Little Rock • Radio: KABZ-FM 103.7 • On Twitter: @pbcommercial
Today’s other state title games
All games at Barton Coliseum
• 3A girls, Jessieville vs. Greenland, 3:30 p.m.
• 1A boys, Concord vs. Bay, 5:15 p.m.
• 2A girls, Norphlet vs. Marmaduke, 7 p.m.