Home Local Sports ‘I’m proud of my guys’: Raiders finish magical season as 4A state...

‘I’m proud of my guys’: Raiders finish magical season as 4A state runner-up

Head coach Donald Pettigrew (gold) talks to the Raiders during a fourth-quarter timeout. (Kyle Pillar, sports editor)

CHAPEL HILL — A season defined by multiple program records, player and coaching milestones and the love of the community for the Richmond Raider basketball team ended one step short of its ultimate goal of Saturday.

Making their fourth all-time appearance in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4A state championship game, the Raiders and head coach Donald Pettigrew earned the title of state runner-up.

The coveted crown escaped the Raiders, who lost to Myers Park High School 74-60 at the Dean E. Smith Center.

Since Richmond opened in 1972-73, the Raiders have finished as the state-runner up in 1988, 1996, 1997 and 2023.

In the East vs. West showdown, Pettigrew said an uncharacteristic second-quarter performance was a turning point in the game. The Mustangs outscored Richmond 19-11, scoring 10 points off turnovers.

Despite chipping away at the lead at different points in the game, the Raiders’ usually highly-productive offense couldn’t get into a rhythm. 

Junior wing Paul McNeil Jr. finished with a team-high 21 points and added six rebounds. He shot 6-of-16 from the field, including two three-pointers, and connected on 7-of-10 free throws.

McNeil Jr. was also named the Raiders’ “Most Outstanding Player” following the game, and senior Dakota Chavis earned the “Outstanding Sportsmanship Award.”

Paul McNeil Jr. hits a jumper over Sir Mohammed (14) during the 4A state championship on Saturday. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)

As a team, Richmond finished 18-of-54 (33.3%) from the floor. Myers Park had a team shooting percentage of 56.6% and scored 44 points in the paint.

Fellow junior Javian Drake was the only other double-digit scorer for Richmond, scoring 10 points on two triples and four free throws, all in the final period.

Senior Zion Baldwin had nine points and five boards, junior Jullien Cole added seven points and a team-high seven rebounds and Chavis scored seven points, all in the first half. 

Netting all six of his points in the fourth quarter was junior Jamarion Wall. 

Playing a Myers Park team with a lot of size and an offense run through the paint, Richmond finished the first quarter trailing 17-14. A 4-0 lead by the Mustangs was cut in half when McNeil Jr. hit a mid-range jumper at the 7:02 mark.

McNeil Jr. and Chavis recorded all of Richmond’s scoring in the first period, finishing with nine and seven points, respectively. Hitting a triple from the right wing, McNeil Jr. made it a 6-5 deficit.

A putback by McNeil Jr. recorded Richmond’s final points before the media timeout (3:54). Bishop Boswell and Elijah Strong, who both had a game-high 22 points, combined for 10 points in the first.

To close out the first, Chavis hit a layup on a fastbreak on an outlet pass by McNeil Jr., who gathered a defensive rebound. Following a jumper by Sir Mohammed (nine points), McNeil Jr. got the thousands of Raider fans in attendance on their feet with a one-handed jam.

With 11 seconds left, Chavis drained a three-pointer from the right corner to make it a one-possession game.

Dakota Chavis drives past Santanna Lynch for two of his seven points against Myers Park in the first half. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)

Richmond’s deficit dropped to seven points, 27-20, at the second quarter media break (3:50). McNeil Jr. and Chavis each scored a pair of free throws, while Baldwin got on the board with a putback on his own rebound.

A 9-5 run by Myers Park ended the second, resulting in a 36-25 halftime lead for the Mustangs (28-4).

Scoring all five of Richmond’s points was McNeil Jr., who splashed down a three-ball from the top of the arc and added two shots from the line with 26 seconds left.

A closer second half saw Richmond outscored by just three points, 38-35, as the team shot 10-of-29 from the field and add 11-of-13 free throws.

Using a 5-0 run to start the third, McNeil Jr. completed an old-fashioned three-point play and Baldwin added two more points on a putback. Richmond outdid the Mustangs on second-chance points in the game, 15-3.


The six-point deficit, 36-30, would be as close as Richmond would get the rest of the game. Myers Park used a 7-3 lead to head into the media break (3:49) up 43-33, following Baldwin connecting on a triple from the left corner.

Richmond scored six more points in the third, using McNeil Jr.’s final two points of the game from the foul line. Cole got his night started with two free throws and dropped in a short-range jumper with 27 seconds left.

Trailing 52-39 to start the final eight minutes, the fight wouldn’t go away for the Raiders, who scored a team-best 21 points in the fourth. 

Drake opened the scoring with a pair of triples from the right side on back-to-back possessions. But 10 unanswered points by the Mustangs over the next 2:11 put Richmond down 19 points.

Javian Drake releases on one of his two fourth-quarter three-pointer in front of the Richmond bench. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)

Baldwin broke the scoring run with two free throws with 4:22 to play. Drake added a free throw and a jumper from Wall made it 68-50.

In the closing 2:47 of regulation, the Raiders battled to the final buzzer, scoring 10 of the next 16 points. Wall sandwiched a drive and a baseline jumper around a pair of Drake free throws, which was followed by one more Drake shot from the line.

Cole recorded Richmond’s final points on a three-pointer from the left corner with two seconds on the clock.

A.J. White Jr. was the third Mustangs player to finish in double figures with 15 points. Both Strong and White Jr. tied Cole for the game-high with seven boards apiece.

The Season in Review: One for the Ages

Although they came up short of their goal to win the school’s first 4A basketball state championship, the Raiders’ season was one for the ages.

Richmond registered a 28-3 overall record, tying the school’s single-season record for the most wins in one season (2013 baseball, 2014 softball). It was also the program’s most wins in a season, surpassing last year’s mark of 26 wins.

The team’s trip to the 4A state championship game was the deepest playoff run since 1997 when Pettigrew was a senior point guard on the team. Richmond’s East regional championship was also its first since the same season.

The Raiders won their first outright conference title since 2003-04, and secured just the second sweep in program history of the regular-season and conference tournament titles. 

Going 14-0 against Sandhills Athletic Conference opponents, that was another program best and the first time the Raiders have finished undefeated in conference play. It was Richmond’s 14th career conference crown.

A 21-game winning streak, spanning from Dec. 17 until March 4, was the longest winning streak in the team’s 51 seasons. A year ago, a 15-game streak to start the season was the previous best.

In the first round of the playoffs against Purnell Swett, Cole broke the Raiders’ single-game record for most three-pointers in a game (10).

Individual milestones include McNeil Jr. joining the 1,000-point club against Southern Lee on Dec. 13 and Pettigrew earning his 100th career win during the semifinals of the SAC tournament on Feb. 15.

McNeil Jr., who now has 1,477 career points, became the first Raider basketball player to commit to a Power 5 program when he joined N.C. State as a verbal commit last month.

Richmond averaged 77.5 points per game and surpassed the 2,000-point mark in a season for just the sixth time in program history (2,401 points in 2022-23).

The Richmond Observer will publish a photo gallery of Saturday’s 4A state championship game, as well as the All-Sandhills Athletic Conference and All-District 4 teams later in the week.

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Kyle Pillar is a 16-time North Carolina Press Association award-winning sports editor with The Richmond Observer. Follow the sports department on Twitter @ROSports_ for the best in-depth coverage of Richmond County sports.