Patriots heading to the AAA semifinals

Published 3:00 pm Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Pike Liberal Arts Patriots are heading to their first AISA Class AAA semifinal game since 2003 after they knocked off Morgan Academy 62-55 on Wednesday night in Montgomery.

With the win, the Patriots will take on Bessemer in the semifinals beginning at 11:30 Friday morning at the Multiplex in Montgomery.

“It was a great game and it was a great atmosphere,” said head coach Alan Ponder. “Our kids fed off the crowd and the excitement. Our kids went into the game understanding that it had been 16 years since Pike Lib had been to the final four and they were hungry to get there. They worked their tails off to get there and the hard work paid off.”

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The Patriots led by 21 points at halftime, but had to hold off a Senator comeback attempt in the second half. The Senators outscored the Patriots 36-22 in the second half, but in the end, it was the Patriots who are making the trip back to Montgomery on Friday morning.

“It would be fantastic if we could shoot the ball like we shot in the first half,” Ponder said. “To build a lead was great for us. One of the things we talked about at halftime was Morgan has a great basketball team and it wasn’t a fluke that they were in the elite 8.

“We understood we were going to take a punch in the second half. What we had to do was absorb it. They got us early in the second half, but we kept our composure and stayed calm.”

The Patriots have made it to Montgomery over the last few years, but struggled to get past the quarterfinals. This year with that pressure no longer lingering, Ponder hopes his players can relax and just play basketball on Friday morning.

“For us as a team that hasn’t won in that gym, that was huge,” Ponder said. “To get that game was big for us, not only from a winning standpoint, but just to get comfortable. I think now that we won a game in there, I think going into the final four it allows us to relax a little bit, while still keeping the same intensity.”

This will be the first meeting of the season for the Patriots and the Rebels this season.

“Everything I have seen from Bessemer has been on tape,” Ponder said. “I watched them play Lee Scott yesterday. They’re very athletic and well-coached. They play very hard and pressure the ball up and down the court. They got some height and they got some size. It’s a well-put-together basketball team, so it’s going to take a great effort from us. Our guys have answered the bell all season long and we expect nothing else tomorrow.”

After a packed house on Wednesday night, Ponder and the Patriots expect an even bigger crowd for the semifinals.

“We expect it to be great,” Ponder said. “It’s been a long time, if ever, at Pike that they have been excited for basketball. We have a lot of people excited about basketball and about this team.”