ROCKINGHAM — When junior Zion Baldwin slammed home a breakaway jam with 2:18 left in Friday’s Sandhills Athletic Conference tournament championship, the home crowd erupted as the No. 1 Raiders pulled ahead by 13 points.
That energy, along with four double-digit scorers, lifted Richmond Senior High School past No. 2 Pinecrest 69-50 to secure the tournament title.
In the third meeting between the two teams this season, the Raiders took their second victory on their home floor. On Dec. 10, Richmond also defeated the Patriots 68-40.
The win gave the Raiders the edge in the 4A conference standings, which saw them share the regular-season title with the Patriots.
Sophomore shooting guard Paul McNeil tallied a game-high 19 points, while teammates Dakota Chavis (13 points), Baldwin (12 points) and Javian Drake (11 points) contributed to the win.
A total of seven Raiders found the basket, with sophomore Jamarion Wall adding 7 points. Rounding out the scoring were seniors Xavier Collazo (4 points) and Deshon Watson (3 points).
Richmond and Pinecrest battled out to an 8-8 tie through the opening six minutes of the first quarter. An 11-7 stretch by the Raiders gave them a four-point advantage heading into the second.
McNeil scored 7 points in the first, including the team’s final five points in the closing minute. Watson tallied all of his points on a free throw and a drive, and Drake connected on a three-pointer from the right wing.
Baldwin, Chavis and Wall each collected their first two points. Leading the Patriots in the first were Jullien Cole (6 points) and JJ Goins (5 points).
At the buzzer, senior Will Dawkins blocked a JD Scarbrough shot attempt to keep the Raiders ahead 19-15.
Deshon Watson (4) and Zion Baldwin force a turnover against Nehemiah Thomas in the first quarter. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)
A bucket by Cole to open the second made it a two-point game, but a shot off the glass from Drake started the first of two significant runs for the Raiders.
The first was a 10-0 run started by Drake that also featured a transition layup by him, four points from Collazo on a pair of free throws and a drive and a putback by Baldwin.
Leading 29-17, it was Richmond’s largest lead of the first half. The stretch was ended by a three-pointer from Jackson Bode, which started a 7-0 spurt by the Patriots.
McNeil stopped that run with a free throw at the 1:14 mark, beginning a 6-0 response from the Raiders. A Chavis triple from the left corner and a Drake jumper with three seconds before the half gave Richmond a 35-26 lead at the break.
Although Pinecrest struggled from the free throw line during the game, finishing 0-for-8 as a team, the Patriots managed to outscore Richmond 16-13 in the third.
Bode scored the final five of his 8 points, Goins notched 4 points and Nehemiah Thomas knocked down a triple. Scarbrough and Cole added 2 points each.
The Patriots cut their deficit to five points, 39-34 with 4:45 left, but a 9-2 response from Richmond opened the Raiders’ lead back up. Baldwin worked down low for a bucket and added two free throws.
McNeil accounted for the other five points, netting a triple from the right wing and a jumper. After three, Richmond held a six-point lead, 48-42.
Paul McNeil (2) led all scorers with 19 points in Friday’s SAC tournament championship. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)
Securing the SAC tournament championship was a 21-point fourth quarter for the Raiders. Chavis led the way with his final 6 points, scoring on two drives and two free throws.
Wall, who hadn’t scored since the first, added a three-pointer and a layup in the final eight minutes. Baldwin and McNeil capped their scoring with 4 points each, and Drake added a putback.
Following Baldwin’s dunk, the Patriots (20-5) turned the ball over on the ensuing inbound. With 2:01 remaining, a technical foul and a player ejection for Pinecrest awarded the Raiders a couple of free throw opportunities to ice the win.
Leading scorers for the Patriots were Goins (11), Cole (10), Bode and Colby Wallace (8 points each), Scarbrough (6) and Thomas (5).
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association will complete its 2021-22 4A playoff seedings on Saturday.
With the win over the Patriots, the Raiders (23-1) earned the top 4A SAC berth and are projected as the No. 1 overall seed in the 4A East according to High School OT.
The Richmond Observer will publish the official playoff seedings when they’re released.
VIDEO INTERVIEW: Zion Baldwin talks about how his breakaway jam in the fourth quarter got the energy level up in Friday’s win, and head coach Donald Pettigrew says the home crowd played a big part in Richmond’s SAC tournament title victory.