The pressure was immense all season for Riverdale’s girls basketball team to repeat as Class AAA state champions.
After all, the Lady Warriors were returning the same lineup that won last year’s state title with another year of experience.
So, given that, the pressure that Memphis Central put on the Lady Warriors in Saturday’s Class AAA girls basketball state tournament title game was just another day at the office for Riverdale.
Riverdale handled the pressure and pulled away from Central in the fourth quarter to capture a 66-59 win and complete back-to-back state titles and a perfect 34-0 season.
“To see it all come down to one game, 32 minutes, and to watch our kids battle and compete and be their best for 32 minutes, it’s a tribute to the girls,” said Riverdale coach Randy Coffman, who has won state titles in his first two years. “They’re tremendous young ladies with hearts of lions.”
Riverdale, the nation’s top-ranked team by USA Today and MaxPreps, led just 57-55 midway through the fourth quarter but went on a 5-0 run to gain some cushion and then put the game away at the free throw line late.
“I just knew we needed some baskets,” said Riverdale senior All-American and Tennessee signee Anastasia Hayes, who finished with 33 points and was 13-of-17 from the free throw line, most of those coming late. She was named tournament MVP.
It was the fourth state title in six years for Riverdale.The last six Class AAA state champs have come from Murfreesboro. Blackman won titles in 2014 and 15 while Riverdale won in 2012 and 13.
The last time a Murfreesboro team was unseated as state champs was in 2011 when Memphis Central defeated Riverdale by almost an identical score as Saturday (68-59).
“Basketball here is very serious,” said Riverdale junior forward Brinae Alexander, who pulled down 16 rebounds. “It’s tough, so we always want to come out on top.”
“That was the really big challenge (repeating as state champs),” added Hayes, who finishes her Riverdale career with two state titles, a Miss Basketball award and three All-America honors. “That’s what we wanted to do — to go 34-0. Every time we would get down, we would say, ‘OK, we need to step up. We’re not going to lose this game.'”
Riverdale, which has won 42 straight games, led 32-27 at halftime and just 38-37 going into the fourth quarter.
The lead switched hands several times throughout before Riverdale went on the fourth-quarter run.
“We just had to keep our mind in the game and trust each other, and I think we did that,” said Riverdale junior Alexis Whittington.
The Lady Warriors shot just 2-of-14 from 3-point range, compared to 8-of-18 for Memphis Central. Riverdale doubled Central on free throws (18-of-26 vs. 9-of-13).
Amanda Whittington added 11 points for Riverdale. Jireh Washington scored 20 points for Memphis Central (30-7) while Brianna Cooks added 17 and Johne Stewart 14.
Reach Cecil Joyce at email@example.com or 615-278-5168 and on Twitter @Cecil_Joyce.