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PLAS challenges powerful Tuscaloosa

Pike Liberal Arts School girls basketball head coach Robert Hawkins is happy with how far the Lady Patriots have come this season.

But PLAS still has one goal left.

"We are happy. We went from last year only winning four or five games to this year only losing four or five games. We really want to win Friday and make it to the championship game. That was really our biggest goal at the start of the year. Winning the Region was our first goal, pretty much our goal every year, but making it to the finals of State was a really big goal and then let the chips fall where they may in the championship game."

But the Lady Patriots’ opponent, Tuscaloosa Academy, will be a huge hurdle to the title game.

PLAS battles the Lady Knights today in the AISA Class AAA Final Four at 2:00 pm at Huntingdon College in Montgomery. The Lady Patriots

enter the contest at 22-5 and ranked seventh while Tuscaloosa Academy takes a 17-3 record and No. 5 ranking into the game.

"The thing about them is they’ve had a great program for so long, they’ve got a lot of depth," Hawkins said. "They’ve built the girls from such an early age that they can bring a lot of people off the bench."

"They’re real fundamentally sound," Hawkins continued. "Both their guards are good shooters. I think our guards match up really well with their guards. I think we really match up with them good, it’s just going to come down to who’s making shots."

The Lady Patriots will rely on guards Beth Anderson and Lindy Lunkenheimer, although Lunkenheimer, a transfer from Jeff Davis, has been hampered by a sprained ankle for two weeks.

Anderson, a transfer from Bullock Memorial, lead the Lady Patriots with 19 points in a 37-26 win over Fort Dale Academy in the regional tournament at Faulkner University last week. Lunkenheimer, although playing most of the game, struggled, but Hawkins expects her to be ready today.

Both players have played key roles in PLAS’s success this season and Hawkins said both guards were the missing components from a team with potential.

"All we needed last year was a guard and I knew this year we’d be getting Beth and then we got Lindy to come in too. We already had the post players so I was really expecting big things this year. We’ve pretty much done what I was hoping we would do. I really would have been disappointed if we hadn’t made it to state."

And although a loss today will be disappointing for the seniors, Hawkins said reaching the Final Four is something to be proud of.

"I think, obviously for the seniors, it will be disappointing. Lindy played at Jeff Davis last year and they went to the Final Four and lost and I think Beth may have played in the Final Four in the tenth grade, so I think both of them have been there. But none of the rest of us, including me, have ever been to the Final Four, so this is the farthest most of us have ever come. We’ve got three seniors, Danielle Johnson, Beth and Lindy and I think, to them, it would be the most disappointing, obviously, not making it to the championship game. I would love to beat Tuscaloosa Academy, but winning or losing that game is not going to take away from what they’ve accomplished this year."

The Pike Lib boy’s squad also faces a tough challenge in Tuscaloosa Academy. Tip-off for the Patriots’ game against the top-ranked Knights is at 12:30 p.m.

The Knights come into the game unbeaten at 23-0, but PLAS head coach Paul Kirchharr can take consolation in the fact that this was the same situation Tuscaloosa Academy entered the Class AAA Final Four in last season. Hooper ended the Knights’ dream of a perfect season and state championship a year ago.

Now Pike will try to do the same.

"I honestly think we match-up with them pretty good," Kirchharr said. "They’ve got a 6-foot-6 center underneath that’s pretty tough and, like us, they have a couple of quick guys. It’s all going to come down to who makes their shots."

Kirchharr said the Knights like to get most of their points off opponent’s turnovers.

"We can’t have any turnovers," he said. "I’m not being cocky, but I’ve told everybody that I’m glad we’re playing Tuscaloosa first. We’ve got a real positive attitude right now and we’re ready to play."

The Knights will also have a deeper bench to go to. Tuscaloosa Academy has over seven players on its bench that has seen action during the season.