Saturday, February 23, 2008

SPORTS >>Ailing Raiders are game, but won’t defend 3A title

Leader sports editor

The strategy worked, but the shots wouldn’t fall.

As a result, there will be a new Class 3A state champion at Hot Springs next month. Third-ranked Conway St. Joe’s survived a gutsy performance by a flu-bedraggled Riverview Raiders team to post a 44-34 win in the quarterfinals of the Region 2 regionals on Wednesday at the Riverview Activity Center.

“The defensive game plan was good, how we were attacking offensively was good. The shots wouldn’t fall,” said Riverview head coach Danny Starkey, whose Raiders concluded the season at 17-12. “We forced a few shots and there were a lot of little things we did that you can’t do against a good team like that.”

Riverview hit under 30 percent for the game, and made only 3-of-18 from beyond the arc.

Defensively, the much shorter Raiders did their best to contain the Bulldogs’ twin towers — 6-5 Nick Heathscott and 6-6 John Kordsmeier. Mostly they did, limiting the two to 12 points.

“Last year, Heathscott had a field day on us,” Starkey said. “We felt like he was the one to control. We did a good job on him. But then they had [Wade Beck] come off the bench and pick up six points on us. That breaks your back.”

Beck scored all six of his points at a critical juncture late in the first half after Riverview had rallied from a 12-5 deficit to tie the game at 14 on Jordan Perry’s three-pointer from the right wing with 4:15 left in the first half.

Over a 2:36 span to close out the half, Beck got inside three times for buckets to allow the Bulldogs to capture the momentum and a 23-16 lead heading into intermission.

Though Perry scored twice inside in the third period to keep the Raiders within shouting distance, Luke Kordsmeier delivered a punishing blow with a three-pointer at the buzzer that extended the Bulldog lead to nine.

The Raiders got to within six on Thatcher Cooperwood’s baseline drive at the 4:43 mark, and Riverview had a good look to narrow the gap even further, but Dominique Baker’s four-footer along the baseline rimmed out.
St. Joe’s (34-1) put the game away with a 5-0 run to open up a 38-27 lead with 1:19 left.

Senior point guard Bo Banks, one of three Raiders, along with Ben Jones and Cameron Angerman who were playing at less than full strength due to illness, got his only points of the game on a putback with 43 seconds remaining but St. Joe’s made its final six free throws.

“With those three guys not feeling well, we didn’t push the ball like I wanted to,” Starkey said. “That’s where it affected us the most.”

Senior Thatcher Cooperwood ended his career at Riverview with solid 12-point, nine-rebound performance, while fellow senior Baker added six points and six rebounds. Perry added seven points, while Angerman grabbed six rebounds. The Raiders battled the taller Bulldogs to a draw on the boards, and committed only 11 turnovers.

But they made only 13-of-45 from the field, compared to 15-of-34 for St. Joe’s.

“Defensively, I can’t complain at all,” Starkey said. “Part of our game plan was good enough to win. But that’s a good ball club and every possession counts. I wasn’t against the shooting the three, but it was who was shooting it. We had some guys out there launching those that shouldn’t have been.”

Sad and frustrating as Starkey said it is not be back at state after winning it all last season, he is mostly pleased with what his team was able to put together.

“We knew early on, with who we lost, it was going to be a struggle,” he said. “But we figured as the season progressed, we’d be pretty tough. The only thing I’m disappointed in is I didn’t feel like we learned from our mistakes this year like good teams have to.

“But it was a good bunch of kids that laid it on the line,” he added. “It was not the season we wanted. After coming off a state championship, the first goal is to repeat. But when you lose what we lost, that’s asking a lot. Hopefully, next year, we’ll get back to the level we want to play at and are used to playing at.”