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Warrior wins area title in final second

2006’s first two meetings between the Warrior Academy and MMI boys’ basketball teams both went into overtime. Both had big shots. Both had incredible performances and both had enough drama to last an entire season.

And then Saturday, both were topped.

With Warrior star JaMichael Rivers fouled out and MMI up by two, Warrior’s Jamey Donaldson hit a three-pointer with one second remaining to give the Braves a stunning 80-79 victory in the championship game of the AISA Class A West Area IV tournament. The homestanding Tigers had clawed back from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit before Donaldson’s shot saved the Braves from a crushing defeat.

“Just relief. Just a big sigh of relief,” Warrior head coach Robert Jarvis said of watching Donaldson’s three hit the bottom of the net. “He’s hit threes pretty good for us all season. He just happened to be open and I’m glad Robbie [Gray] found him.”

Donaldson’s buzzer beater capped a wild final sequence that saw the Braves go from having complete control to nearly seeing the game slip through their fingers. The Tigers had clipped a 74-60 Warrior lead to 75-68 on four consecutive Javoris Smith free throws, but Rivers responded by hitting his own pair of foul shots and rebounding an MMI miss to give the visitors a nine-point lead and the ball with just less than two minutes remaining.

But as Rivers brought the ball over the half-court line it was stolen by MMI’s Amellio Fikes, and in his attempt to recover Rivers committed his fifth foul with 1:53 to play. Without their leading scorer and floor leader, Warrior suffered a series of missed shots and turnovers that MMI exploited, scoring eight points over the next 53 seconds and pulling within 77-76 on a Smith three-pointer.

On the Braves’ next possession a Gray three-pointer was blocked, sparking a fast break that Kendrick Moore would finish with a lay-up to give MMI their first lead, 78-77, since 6:38 remained in the third quarter. Jarvis was then whistled for a technical foul for arguing that Gray had been fouled, and as both sets of fans erupted Smith sank one of two free throws to put the Tigers up two with 37 seconds to play.

The missed free throw would prove costly, as a wayward MMI pass turned the ball back over to the Braves with 17.9 seconds left. Gray brought the ball across halfcourt and looked for a shot at the top of the key. But in the face of solid Tiger defense he dished to his right to Donaldson, who showed no hesitation in burying his open look. The stunned Tigers were unable to get a shot off in the remaining second, setting off a wild celebration in which Donaldson was mobbed by teammates and Warrior supporters.

“I was just hoping Robbie would get me the ball,” Donaldson said of his game-winning effort. “I knew I could hit the shot.”

The reaction to the junior’s heroics was naturally very, very different along the MMI bench. Although the loss does not eliminate the sixth-ranked Tigers from the Class A tournament, MMI must now face AISA No. 5 Lakeside at next week’s Regionals while Warrior takes on lightly-regarded Crenshaw.

After the game, a visibly disappointed MMI head coach Dr. Michelle Ivey said that the Tigers would nevertheless find a way to bounce back.

“We just have to come back fighting on Monday,” she said. “I thought they hung in there tonight … [But] we tell them, you have to defend every position. One position can cost you the game. Somebody forgot about [Donaldson] and he hit a clutch shot.”

Warrior had built their late lead on the back of a dominant performance by Rivers. The senior finished with 43 points, 28 of them coming in the second half as the Braves turned what had been a 47-43 MMI edge with 3:40 left in the third quarter into a commanding 14-point advantage with 3:40 to play.

Rivers was joined in double figures by Donaldson with 14, Gray with 11, and Trenedy Bolden with 10. Ferris Williams added 2.

Smith, whose 15 fourth-quarter points led the comeback, led the Tigers with 27 total. He was followed by Moore with 18, Jerome Smith with 15, Wendell Crews with 12, Sam Greene with 5, and Fikes with 2.

Warrior’s win, the first in three tries against MMI this season, improved the Braves’ record to 18-3. MMI fell to 19-1.

Rivers was named tournament MVP. He was joined on the All-Tournament team by WAP’s Kyle Kennedy, Sumter Academy’s Brandon Briggs, Southern Academy’s Wallace Drury, MMI’s Javoris Smith and Moore, and Donaldson and Gray.