On to the championship: Patriots knock off Bessemer in AISA Final Four

Published 6:20 pm Friday, February 14, 2020

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The Pike Liberal Arts Patriots are heading to their first AISA State Championship after knocking off Bessemer 55-41 in the Class 3A Final Four.

The Patriots advanced to the Final Four last year only to be eliminated by Bessemer. This season the Patriots returned the favor and will play Tuscaloosa Academy in the state championship on Saturday night.

“This is huge,” head coach Allen Ponder said. “This is the first time Pike Liberal Arts has played in the championship game. It’s very exciting for our kids and our basketball program.”

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Both the boys and girls basketball teams advanced to the Final Four this season. The Lady Patriots fell to Glenwood on Friday morning.

“We have come a long way,” Ponder said. “The girls played in the Final Four this morning. Coach (Brandon) Matthews has done a great job with the program. Our program is where we want it to be. We expect to be in the Final Four every single year. These kids are a direct result of the teams from the past.”

The Patriots, for the second consecutive game, found themselves down early only to battle back and secure the win.

“Today was fun,” Ponder said. “Bessemer played extremely hard and we were able to knock down some shots when we needed to.”

The Patriots found themselves down 7-3 early in the first quarter. The Rebels hit a total of four 3-pointers in the quarter and went into the second leading 18-12.

The Patriots took their turn knocking down big shots in the second quarter. The Patriots started the quarter on an 8-0 run and took their first lead at 20-19.

“We were sluggish on the offensive and defensive end,” Ponder said. “In the first quarter we gave up 18 points and a lot of those 18 points were because we weren’t shooting the ball well. When we started forcing some turnovers we started playing well. We preached that to our kids all season long. They just needed a wakeup call. Hopefully we won’t do that tomorrow.”

Leading 20-19, the Patriots outscored the Rebels 8-4 in the final few minutes of the second quarter and went into halftime leading 28-23.

After Bessemer scored the first two points of the second half, the Patriots went on a 9-0 run to take a 37-25 lead.

The lead hovered around 12 points the rest of the quarter and the Patriots entered the fourth leading 48-36.

After knocking down plenty of 3-pointers early in the game, Bessemer started to come out and guard the long-range shot, leaving the paint wide open.

“Anytime a team is down double digits late in the game, they are going to come out and guard you,” Ponder said. “We feel like our advantage is our quickness. When they came out and guarded us we felt like we had the ability to go by them. When we got by them we were able to get to the rim and get some easy ones. That’s what you want to do late in the game.”

Three Patriots finished with three players in double figures led by Javon Christian, who finished with 21. Austin Cross finished with 11, Drew Nelson had 10, Nick O’Brien had seven and Jeffrey Knotts had six. The Patriots finished with 12 3-pointers.

The Patriots will take on Tuscaloosa Academy beginning at 7 p.m. at the Crampton Bowl Multiplex in Montgomery.