SOUTHERN PINES — The last time the Raiders played the Pinecrest High School Patriots in late January, Richmond rolled to a 26-point victory. With the stakes heightened in Wednesday’s Sandhills Athletic Conference tournament semifinal game, the Raiders never led by more than eight points, but secured a win.
On the road at No. 2 Pinecrest, the No. 3 Raiders were looking to upset the Patriots and advance to their first conference title game since 2017. Thanks to a game-high five three-pointers from senior shooting guard Rod Newton, and a plethora of clutch free throws in the final minute, the Raiders advanced with a 54-48 win.
Unlike the last meeting, Wednesday’s fourth quarter saw two ties and two lead changes, with Richmond taking the final lead of the night with just 1:23 left on the clock. In the 1:10 of play, the Raiders outscored Pinecrest 9-3, with all nine points coming from the charity stripe.
“This is so exciting for us, and there’s no better time to be playing basketball,” head coach Donald Pettigrew said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game and their crowd is always electric. Pinecrest did a good job of making us work, but our guys kept fighting.
“I didn’t go with my normal rotation in the second half and kept the same group in,” he explained. “They stepped it up and held on for a big win.”
A slow start to the game by both teams saw a 10-9 Richmond lead at the end of the first quarter, but Newton connected on two triples in the frame, while also adding a layup for eight of his game-high 22 points.
Sophomore guard Caleb Hood would be Richmond’s second largest contributor, finishing the win with 14 points. His presence down low in the paint proved to be a difference maker, as he drew fouls four different times, connecting on a three of his extra opportunities.
“Rod is relentless, he’s like a pitbull — he keeps coming at you,” Pettigrew said. “He’s taking really good shots right now. He’s patient, and once he gets it going, he’s tough to beat.
“Hood is so strong and he can post guys up,” he added. “He posted up so strong tonight and got a lot of big and-ones.”
The Patriots would use a sloppy second quarter by the Raiders plagued with turnovers and bad passes to take a six-point lead 19-13. A 5-0 run to open the period was stopped when sophomore Nygie Stroman drove the paint. A Jarvis Tillman three-pointer with 55 seconds left made it a 19-16 Richmond deficit at the half.
The third quarter was Richmond’s best scoring period of the night, as the Raiders put 24 points on the board to Pinecrest’s 13. Newton cranked out three more three-balls, while Hood added three drives in the paint and a free throw for seven points.
Four lead changes and three ties took place early in the frame, but a deep Newton three-pointer from the top of the key helped start a 10-3 run that saw Richmond take a 40-32 lead into the fourth.
Pinecrest’s Dillon Drennan only scored six points in the game, but all six came in a 40-second span to open the final period. He stepped back and hit two three-pointers on back-to-back possessions for the Patriots, cutting Richmond’s lead to two points.
Another Hood drive and made and-one opportunity gave the visitors some breathing room, but a bucket by Bradlee Haskell and a three-pointer by Zion Bailey knotted the game at 43-all. Both teams traded buckets on their next possessions to keep it tied at 45.
Richmond took control of the game in the final 70 seconds, starting when Bailey fouled Stroman, Pinecrest’s seventh of the half, sending the 6-7 big man to the line for one-and-ones. Stroman connected on both shots.
After failing to score and turning the ball over out of bounds, Noah Lyons quickly fouled Newton on an inbound pass with 34.4 seconds remaining. Like Stroman, Newton connected on both free throw chances to give Richmond a 49-45 lead.
With the clock winding down and their tournament life on the line, the Patriots chucked up two missed three-pointers (both by Haskell) on their next possession. But a loose ball on the second attempt was scooped up by Jasper Ardinger, who splashed down a three-pointer with 11.3 seconds left.
Forced to foul, the Patriots sent Newton to the line again, and he hit one of his two free throws. Trailing 50-48, the Patriots’ Haskell and Clayton Coe each missed on shots in the paint in the winding seconds, resulting in an Alex Quick rebound for Richmond.
He was fouled with 0.7 seconds left on the clock, and that foul sent Richmond into the double bonus. Quick rang true on both shots. Following his second make, Pinecrest head coach Ben Snyder drew a technical foul when he called a timeout when he had no more to take.
Icing the game and ending Pinecrest’s chances at making the SAC title game was Newton, who drilled the two technical foul free throws.
Other leading scorers for Richmond were Tillman (eight points), and Quick and Stroman each added four points. Haskell led Pinecrest with 11 points, followed by nine from Coe. Newton shot 5-of-9 from three-point land.
“The free throws were big down the stretch,” Pettigrew noted. “The guys stepped up and knew what they needed to do to make a win happen. They’re playing with a lot of excitement, and it’s never easy playing a team three times.
“We’re ready for part three against Seventy-First,” he concluded. “They hit us in the mouth last time, so hopefully we come ready to play. We’re ready to win an (SAC) title.”
The No. 1 Seventy-First High School Falcons defeated No. 4 Lumberton High School Wednesday 78-63. The Raiders will head to Fayetteville for the SAC championship game Friday at 7 p.m.
Richmond last won the SAC tournament title in 2016, when it defeated Hoke County High School 113-106.