Final Four bound:
Patriots, Lady Patriots headed to Huntingdon
By Kevin Pearcey
MONTGOMERY – Pike Liberal Arts School’s Druid Conrad shot only one three-pointer on Friday at the AISA Class AAA East Regional final against Morgan Academy.
But sometimes one shot is all it takes.
The senior forward’s basket from the left wing with 1:30 remaining in overtime gave the Patriots a three point lead and PLAS (13-13) would push that advantage to as much as six points, winning 49-45 over the Senators and advancing to the Final Four next weekend at Huntingdon College.
"I didn’t even think it was going in when it left my hand," said Conrad.
Conrad’s basket broke a scoreless overtime period in which Pike was plagued by turnovers and missed shots beneath the basket. But with a minute left to play, the Patriots’ defense never quit on the other end, holding the Senators scoreless on five straight trips down the floor. Michael DiChiara, Brandon Hooks and Layton Sanders upped Pike’s lead to six points on three trips to the foul line.
Morgan’s Rick Brignac hit a three-pointer with 15.6 seconds remaining to cut the lead in half, but Conrad finished the Senators off at the line, hitting one-of-two.
Sanders’ called his fellow senior’s three-pointer the "biggest shot of the game."
But in the second half it was Sanders who helped carry the Patriots early.
PLAS was up 17-16 at the half, but Morgan opened with two straight field goals and went up 20-17.
Sanders took off on a 7-2 run of his own, scoring on a layup and two baseline jumpers, one from outside the arc, giving Pike back the edge 24-22. The Patriots looked to have the game under control when the senior nailed his final three-point shot of the day in the fourth quarter, as Pike Lib took a seven-point lead with 5:12 left, 42-35.
Sanders finished with 14 points, all coming in the second half.
"Coach (Paul Kirchharr) kept trying to get me to drive to the basket and I couldn’t get it going in the first half," he said.
But Morgan still had something left to give as Wesley Fain and Brian King both scored and King’s bank-shot three with 20 seconds left tied the game at 42-42.
After a turnover, Morgan had a chance to win it with 4.6 seconds showing on the clock but Fain’s three-pointer was off the mark.
After the game, Kirchharr, who is in his first season of coaching at Pike Lib, was still somewhat speechless about his team’s amazing run toward the Final Four. The Patriots, a team marred by inconsistency during the regular season, now seem like a brand new ball club and have won three straight.
"I’m still sort of in shock," said Kirchharr.
Kirchharr said he didn’t have to tell his team much following regulation.
"I just told them they could do it," he said. "They knew they had played sloppy (in the final minutes of the fourth) and let them hang around. I felt like we were more talented then they (Morgan) were, but we give God all the glory. He gave us the energy and the strength."
Conrad also had 14 points for PLAS and Jared Waldrop scored nine.
In the girls contest, the eighth-ranked Pike Liberal Arts School Lady Patriots completed a three-game sweep of the Fort Dale Lady Eagles with a 37-26 win on Friday at the Class AAA East Regional Tournament, also at Faulkner.
PLAS (21-5) now moves on to Huntingdon for the girl’s AAA Final Four.
"We really shut them (FDA) down offensively and they didn’t really do much," said head coach Robert Hawkins. "It was just a matter of us scoring our points."
Pike led 8-1 after the first quarter and had built a 30-17 lead by the end of the third. Beth Anderson scored 19 points while Rae Pinckard added 12.
Surprisingly, senior point guard Lindy Lunkenheimer played virtually the entire game for the Lady Patriots. Lunkenheimer sprained her ankle against Lee-Scott last weekend in the area tournament title game and it was thought that her play would be limited on Friday against Fort Dale.
"She was a little hampered by it, but she still played good," said Hawkins. "She could bring the ball up and down the court pretty good, but you could tell that when she tried to set up for a shot it really messed her up. It’s her right ankle and she puts a lot of weight on that right ankle."
Hawkins feels Lunkenheimer should be ready to go next Friday.