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Warrior game to decide state title

For once, Warrior didn’t get a huge game out of JaMichael Rivers. For once, they didn’t need it.

Senior guard Trenedy Bolden led the Braves with 13 points, seven of them coming in the final minute as Warrior held off Autauga Academy 43-36 to advance to Thursday night’s AISA Class A championship.

Rivers, a senior forward who scored 43 points in a recent game against MMI and 26 in the Braves’ quarterfinal win over Crenshaw, finished as the team’s second-leading scorer against Autauga with 12. But none came in the second half as the Generals’ box-and-one defense denied Rivers the ability to penetrate off the dribble.

“He’s our go-to-guy,” said Warrior head coach Robert Jarvis. “I would have liked us to have shot the ball a little better and pulled them out of that box-and-one. But they all stepped up when they had to.”

That “they” includes Rivers, who made the game’s biggest play without hitting a shot. With Warrior clinging to a 38-34 lead with only 45 seconds remaining, the Generals stepped to the line for a one-and-one. The free throw missed and Rivers corralled the rebound, streaked up court, and as the defense collapsed found Bolden for an easy layup that put the game all but out of reach.

“He made a perfect pass,” Jarvis said of the play.

Bolden and Rivers were far from the only Braves who made big plays down the stretch. A Rivers three-pointer at the first-half buzzer gave the Braves a 20-14 lead at the break, but after a Bolden three stretched the lead to 23-16 two minutes into the quarter Warrior went cold. A Robbie Gray free throw was all the offense the Braves would manage over the next four-and-a-half minutes, eventually falling behind 25-24 on an Autauga free throw with 1:48 to play in the quarter.

But on Warrior’s next possession guard Jamey Donaldson, whose three-pointer at the buzzer won the Braves the West Area IV title over MMI, knocked down another big three to retake the lead. Donaldson then hit a free throw to give the Braves a 28-27 lead at the end of the period, and on the first possession of the fourth quarter found Ferris Williams for a layup that put Warrior up three.

The Generals eventually tied the game at 34, but Williams rebounded his own miss to put the Braves ahead by two with 1:58 to play. A block by Williams on Autauga’s next possession led to a fast break score by Bolden. The Generals’ following possession ended with Rivers’ assist for Bolden’s second layup, and Warrior never looked back.

“Every time we’d go up a bit they’d come right back,” Jarvis said. “But we found a way to keep out in front of them.”

Robbie Gray followed Bolden’s 13 and Rivers’ 12 with 8 points of his own. Donaldson’s 6 and Williams’ 4 rounded out the Warrior scoring.

The win sets the Braves up for one final, all-the-marbles meeting with rivals MMI, who defeated Warrior in overtime in both regular season meetings before Donaldson stunned the Tigers in the teams’ third encounter.

“I think we’ve got a chance, an opportunity,” Jarvis says. “A lot depends on how we execute, and our young guys can’t let the pressure get to them.”