(Town Crier photo/Trent Fletcher)
By TRENT FLETCHER
Town Crier Sports Staff
Riverside hoped the third time would be the charm when the Rebels faced Earle in Saturday night's 2A-3 District Tournament Championship game at the Mustang Athletic Complex. In two previous meetings during the regular season, the Bulldogs had prevailed, giving Earle the regular season conference title as the Rebels had to settle for a runner-up finish. After the first period, it looked as though Riverside would turn the tide on the Bulldogs and take home the tournament title, but it wasn't to be.
The Bulldogs turned to a half court trap defense in the second quarter which stifled the Rebel offense and helped Earle turn the tide en rout to a convincing 69-50 victory and the district tournament championship.
Riverside looked unstoppable in the opening stanza, building a 15-8 advantage entering the second quarter. The Rebels broke a 4-4 tie and outscored Earle 11-2 over the next 2:00 to grab a 15-6 lead with just 52 seconds left in the opening period. Riverside senior Casey Hook threw up a one handed hook shot that banked off the glass as he was fouled to highlight the Rebel run. Hook's free throw completed the three point play and gave Riverside the early momentum.
The second quarter was a different story, however, as conference Most Valuable Player Steven Meredith led a Bulldog rally, wiping out the seven point Rebel lead to take a
32-25 advantage into the dressing room at the half. Earle started the quarter with an 11-0 run as the Bulldogs capitalized on Rebel miscues created by the Earle pressure defense.
Darron Weeden's driving lay-up at the 5:57 mark of the second period gave the Bulldogs a 17-15 lead and Earle would never trail again.
Riverside would get no closer than nine points in the second half and trailed by as many as 20 before the night was over. Meredith was the key cog behind the Bulldog offensive onslaught, hitting from both inside and out, piling up a game high 25 points as the fourth ranked team in the state improved to 27-4 on the year entering next week's regional tournament at Cross County.
"We really played well tonight," said Earle Coach Billy Murray. "This team seems to be play better when they get behind, for whatever reason, so I wasn't worried when we got down early in the game. We installed a half court press for the first time all season simply because we hadn't needed it, and Riverside wasn't ready for it. I thought that was the turning point of the game. I've been coaching 31 years and I have to tell you this championship means a lot to me and the kids. I am very proud of each and every one of them. Steven Meredith is the MVP for the second straight year, but we have several other players that can really play basketball."
"I really don't have much to say," said Riverside Coach Buster Campbell. "I am embarrassed and very disappointed in our effort tonight. The only bright spot is we have a second chance next week in the Regionals."
Corbin McKenzie aided Meredith's 25 point performance with 12 points while Weeden chipped in 11 more.
Riverside placed three players in double figures, led by Glen Graham who scored 13 while Cody Richardson tallied 12 and Garrett Weaver chipped in 10 more. The Rebels got six points from Bradley Tucker while Casey Hook, Travis Mays and Nathan Eldridge all netted three points apiece.
Riverside reached the finals with a hard fought 45-42 victory over ole nemesis Bay in Friday night's semi-finals. The two teams were tied 11-11 after the first quarter before Riverside forged a 26-21 halftime lead.
The Rebels looked as though they might blow the game open midway through the third period, taking a 33-23 lead at the 4:32 mark, but saw Bay rally, scoring the last eight points of the quarter to pull within 33-31 heading into the final frame.
Bay's Jesse Harris tied the score 36-36 with 6:32 left in the game and gave Bay a 37-36 lead with a free throw at the 4:43 mark. The Rebels answered a couple of minutes later when Garrett Weaver drilled a trey from the top of the key to put the Rebels up for good, 39-37, with 2:42 to play. Glen Graham's offensive stick-back at the 1:22 mark pushed the Rebel advantage to 41-37, but Harris retaliated with a three pointer at the1:00 mark to close the gap to 41-40. Forced to foul, Bay sent Weaver to the charity stripe twice in the final 35 seconds where the 5'10" senior nailed four straight free throws to put the game on ice and send the Rebels to the championship round.
Weaver led the Rebels with 21 points, including three treys. Cody Richardson scored nine, Casey Hook netted seven, Glen Graham pitched in five while Travis Mays added three. Riverside hit 16-23 foul shots and made five three pointers.
Jesse Harris led Bay with 13 points while Asa Ladd and Wade Hamilton added eight points apiece. The Yellowjackets hit just 3-9 free throws and made four three pointers.
The Rebels placed three players on the All-Conference team as seniors Garrett Weaver, Glen Graham and Cody Richardson were all honored for Riverside.
Riverside will beginRregional tournament action in Cherry Valley Thursday afternoon as the number two seed from the 2A-3 conference and will take on White County, the third seed from the 2A-2 conference. Game time is set for 5:30.