Not many playoffs teams get to finish their seasons with a win but Edgewood did just that Friday night with a nice bonus. The Wildcats defeated Autauga for the third time this season, knocking off the Generals 38-21 at the Multiplex at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery to claim the school’s third state championship in boys basketball.
“It’s a rivalry game and Autauga is a great team,” Edgewood coach Darryl Free said. “We knew this could happen coming into the tournament and beating a good team three times is hard. But we played a complete basketball game tonight and what a heck of a time to play one.”
Edgewood came out with a level of energy Autauga did not match, allowing the Wildcats to put the game away early. Autauga did not score in the first quarter and Edgewood took a 16-0 lead after eight minutes of play.
The Wildcats knocked down four 3-pointers in the opening frame, including three by JC Bush and one by Robert Stewart. However, it was the team’s performance on the defensive end of the court which helped build the momentum.
“We knew we were going to come out and leave it all on the floor,” Free said. “We knew if we were going win this thing, it was going to be on the defensive end. In the first half, that was one of the best defensive performances I’ve ever seen in high school basketball.”
For the rest of the game, Edgewood showed patience on offense and continued to shut down any of Autauga’s offensive threats. Ardarius Tolliver scored four points in the second quarter but no other General made it on the scoresheet in the first half.
The Wildcats took a 23-4 lead into halftime but they knew a run from Autauga would be coming soon. The Generals erased a 17-point deficit in their semifinal game to make it to the championship game and came out firing in the third quarter.
“We knew they would bring the energy in the second half but we knew the only way they could come back is if we freak out,” Stewart said. “I told our guys before the game that we are mentally stronger than them but we had to prove it.”
Autauga used a 10-2 run to start the second half, cutting the lead to 11 points with 1:29 to go in the third quarter. However, the lead never dipped to single digits as the Wildcats responded with an 10-0 run over the next four minutes to put the game away.
Edgewood set an AISA record for fewest points allowed in a state championship game. Defense was the team’s biggest strength throughout the season and it did not let up on the biggest stage of the year.
“Holding them to four points in the half is something I never would have expected,” Free said. “We came into this game and said no matter what the scoreboard says, it’s 0-0 on every possession. Our guys bought into that. They never let up on the defensive end and that’s what won the game.”
Bush and Stewart each scored 14 points in the win and were named to the all-tournament team. Stewart, who averaged 14.6 points across the three tournament games at the Multiplex, was named as the Most Valuable Player.
The Wildcats had done preparation to face No. 1 Lakeside in the championship game but Autauga pulled off the upset in the semifinals to set up the rematch. The Generals were looking for revenge but Stewart said he knew Edgewood was not going to let it happen.
“If we had played Lakeside, who is a good basketball team, but we would not have played this hard,” Stewart said. “But this is Autauga. Every person at this school knows the rivalry and I woke up this morning thinking we cannot let Autauga beat us.”