By I.C. Murrell

LITTLE ROCK — Headed back in transition with a three-point lead and less than 15 seconds remaining, Pottsville guard Michael Perry saw his big opportunity.

Perry quickly turned around at midcourt and picked off a cross-court pass, then drew a foul with 9.1 seconds left. He made 1 of 2 shots, and after a missed three by Dollarway, the Apaches burst into celebration of their first-ever state championship at the final horn with a 54-50 win Thursday night in Barton Coliseum.

“Once I got that steal, it started to hit me, but it wasn’t until that buzzer sounded that it really settled in,” Perry said of the thought the Apaches had sealed the deal.

Perry, a junior, was named the most valuable player of the game. He scored 16 points, had three assists and and three rebounds in all 32 minutes of action.

“He’s a good ball player,” Cardinals coach Ellis Berry said. “We knew we had to control him, but he worked hard. They set good picks and got him open.”

Dollarway (29-3), playing in its first final since winning the 2006 3A state title, saw its 12-game winning streak snapped after leading by as many as seven points before halftime. Junior Kabion Ento led the Cardinals with 15 points, followed by senior Davonne Chapman with 12 and and senior DeQuan Christmas with 11.

Chapman, Dollarway’s senior power forward and leading scorer on the season, scored nine of his points in the second half.

“He didn’t have his best ballgame,” Berry said. “He made some good plays for us. Then again, he missed some shots that he normally would make.”

The two teams traded runs for much of the game. Pottsville (27-6) had its biggest lead at 18-10 late in the first quarter after Luke McAnaulty made three free throws, but Ento keyed a 14-4 Dollarway run going into the second quarter with a putback and turnaround jump shot. Christmas scored six unanswered points and Ento added two free throws to put the Cardinals ahead 32-25, but Perry ended the rally with a three-pointer with three seconds left before halftime.

“We knew we had to keep pushing the ball because we would stall the ball and have a few turnovers,” Christmas said. “We just did what we could.”

Perry, who converted 3 of 7 three-point attempts, hit one to give the Apaches a 36-35 lead at the 5:52 mark of the third frame. Chapman started to handle the ball more during the quarter and found his rhythm, scoring five points in a 2-minute span to keep the Cards on pace with the Apaches. But Perry, out of a delay offense, found Chris Albin down in the post for a layup to put Pottsville ahead 44-42.

Nicholas Dickson hit a jumper to start the fourth and tie the game, but the Apaches never trailed the rest of the way, leading by as much as 49-44. Joshua Liddell hit a jumper to pull the Cards within 50-48 with 1:41 left and forced a turnover on the ensuing possession. But Chapman turned it over when he was called for traveling on the low block.

Dollarway came up empty after causing a backcourt violation against Pottsville seconds later. Tyler Weaver made two bonus shots, then after a missed three by Chapman, Michael Henderson hit 1 of 2 to make it a 53-48 lead.

Chapman rebounded a missed trey and scored with 19 seconds left. McAnaulty, who made 4 of his first 5 free throws, missed a pair with 15.1 seconds left, then Perry came up with the game-saving steal.

The Apaches were 17 for 25 (68 percent) at the line after making 9 of their first 10. They shot 16 of 39 (41 percent) for the game, including 5 of 11 from the perimeter.

The Cardinals made 19 of 52 field goals (36.5 percent) including 4 of 13 from three-point range. They converted 8 of 13 free throws.

Chapman had a game-high seven rebounds and Ento and Christmas each pulled down six, but Pottsville outrebounded Dollarway 34-29.

“They didn’t frustrate us; we just didn’t have a good night of playing,” Berry said. “We just didn’t get the job done, that’s all.”