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Monday, March 13, 2017

Central girls fall to Riverdale in AAA state title game

article from Commercial Appeal

The Tigers are most likely done for the season. The Grizzlies are in the middle of a puzzling slump.

But Central's girls basketball team showed Saturday there's still plenty to be happy about in Hoop City as it pushed the No. 1 team in the nation to its absolute limits. But in the end, Murfreesboro Riverdale showed it was legit as it held off the Lady Warriors 66-59 in a thrilling AAA championship game at the Murphy Center.

Central — which battled its way to the final after finishing in third place in the District 16-AAA tournament — ends the season 30-7. It was the school's first appearance in the championship game since winning it all in 2011.

"We knew we were the underdog team from Memphis, going up against the No. 1 team in the nation," said Central's Brianna Cooks.

But in typical grit-grind fashion, Central took it right to the favorites and found itself in the fourth quarter with a great chance to pull the upset.

Jireh Washington's 3-pointer gave the Lady Warriors a 52-51 lead with 6:45 to go in the game, and she hit a free throw moments later to tie it at 53. Riverdale — led by tournament Most Valuable Player Anastasia Hayes — responded though and was clinging to a 59-55 lead when Washington missed a 3 with 1:12 to go.

Free throws by Brinae Alexander and Aislynn Hayes then gave Riverdale enough cushion to ride out the storm.

Washington — who finished with a team-high 20 points — was terrific from beyond the arc, connecting on 5 of 6 attempts. Central shot 8 of 18 as a team but was a frustrating 13 of 40 on its 2-point attempts.

As coach Rashad Haynes said, the chances were there.

"We usually have five guards on the floor, and there were some second-chance opportunities where they made some and we missed some," he said. "The effort was there; the fight was there. But (we) didn't finish.

"A different play here and there, and maybe it's a different game."

Anastasia Hayes, a Tennessee signee who was named Miss Basketball earlier in the week, finished with 32 points and was a one-girl press-breaker against Central's furious pressure defense. Amanda Whittington added 11 points while Brinae Alexander pulled down 16 boards, all of them seemingly coming at demoralizing times for Central.

Riverdale ends the season 34-0 and is the sixth straight Murfreesboro team to win the state championship.

"Our mindset against them was the same as with any other team," said Central's Johne' Stewart. "We don't look at rankings or anything like that. We played them like we would any other team."

Cooks had her best game of the tournament, finishing with 17 points on 3 of 5 3-point shooting. Stewart added 14.

"It's hurtful," said Haynes. "But I'm very proud. I think we represented Memphis very well. And just a few more shots here and there ..."

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