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Patriots hold off Tuscaloosa Academy to claim AISA State Championship

The Pike Liberal Arts Patriots led for all but approximately 17 seconds in the second half and pulled out a 55-51 win over Tuscaloosa Academy to claim the AISA Class 3A State Championship on Wednesday afternoon.

After falling in the state championship against Tuscaloosa last season, Matt Brown and the Patriots preached all season long about taking the final step. They did that on Wednesday afternoon.

“It feels great. We knew we had a great team coming back with four starters coming back from a team that got disappointed last year. They showed up and won this year and that’s all that matters.

“I have a great group of kids and a great student body and a lot of great athletes at Pike.”

Following last year’s loss Drew Nelson and his teammates wanted a rematch with Tuscaloosa Academy.

“We are satisfied now,” Nelson said. “This is what we strived for all year to get. We wanted them in the championship game and we wanted to get our revenge. We worked our tail off to get here and it paid off.”

The Patriots trailed briefly 9-8 in the first quarter. After a Javon Christian 3-pointer gave them the lead, the Patriots didn’t trail again until the 2:08 mark of the fourth quarter.

“This team fought all game long,” Brown said. “We knew we had a good game plan, we had to come out, play good defense and play the best game we played all season. The guys played their tails off and their gamers.”

With just under 10 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the Patriots leading by three, Mario Davenport blocked a 3-point shot that would have tied the game. He was later fouled and iced the game at the free throw line.

“I knew he was going to shoot and I had to contest it,” Davenport said. “I got lucky with the block. It’s a blessing.”

“Mario’s defense was great,” Brown said. “Number 14 (Sam Rowlan) is one of the best players I have ever seen in AISA. We knew if we were going to disrupt him we had to find someone very athletic. Mario is our man and Mario played great. If it wasn’t for Mario we probably wouldn’t have won that game.”

Trailing 9-8 in the opening quarter, the Patriots went on a 6-0 run and pulled ahead 14-9. Javon Christian made a 3-pointer as time expired in the first quarter to give the Patriots a six-point advantage at 17-11.

The Patriots led by as many as nine points in the second quarter before entering halftime with a 33-28 lead.

Javon Christian finished with seven points in the third quarter and the Patriots led by as many as nine points before going into the final quarter holding a 46-38 lead.

The Knights began the fourth quarter on a 13-4 run and took their first lead of the second half at 51-50.

That was the final points the Knights scored the rest of the way. Nelson and Christian both made shots leading up to Davenport’s key blocked shot and made free throw.

Christian finished the game with 21 points, 13 of which came in the second half.

“My teammates told me to keep grinding,” Christian said. “I kept going and they were right behind me the whole way.”

Austin Cross finished with 11 points and Davenport had 10.