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Quick Hits: Communication, defense key for No. 2 Raiders in 4A East regional championship against No. 5 Holly Springs

Jamarion Wall (15), Jullien Cole (24) and Dakota Chavis (5) apply pressure on defense during Richmond's fourth-round win. (Kyle Pillar, sports editor)

ROCKINGHAM — Two wins separate the Richmond Senior High School boys’ basketball team from making history by winning its first state championship.

But before they can vie for the coveted hardware, the No. 2 Raiders need to win the next game on their schedule against No. 5 Holly Springs High School in the 4A East regional championship.

Like he’s preached all season, head coach Donald Pettigrew reminded the Raiders during Thursday’s practice to stay “locked in” and “take it one game at a time.”

As the anticipation toward reaching the ultimate goal grows, Richmond is dialed in and is using the mindset of “humble and hungry” to prepare for the Golden Hawks.

Not expecting it to be an easy task, Pettigrew and the Raiders will face a talented Holly Springs squad that eliminated top-seeded New Hanover High School 74-61 in the fourth round on Tuesday.

“It’s going to be a great game, especially at this point in the season,” Pettigrew said at Thursday’s practice. “We actually played them during our summer league and they beat us, so we have seen them before. 

“What we need to make sure we do is communicate. We’ve got to get better at that and get our ears tuned in for screens. Rebounds and good, solid defense are the top priorities we have to take care of in order to win.”

The Raiders have controlled their own destiny this postseason up until this point, winning four home games by an average of 20.0 points per game.

Now Richmond will face its first “road” test of the playoffs when it plays at neutral site Lee County High School on Saturday. The NCHSAA chose Lee County to host both the girls’ and boys’ 4A East regional title games.

As Pettigrew said on Wednesday, the Raiders aren’t focused on where they’re playing. The focus remains on the next opponent at hand.

Using the summer game experience, as well as watching film the last several days, Pettigrew noted the Golden Hawks run a system similar to regular-season opponent Uwharrie Charter Academy. 

“Their offense is a 4-out-1-in style that focuses around a lot of post up play,” Pettgirew said. “They have a 6-8 guy (Collin Kuhl) who is tough around the basket and a lot of their sets run through him. He’ll be tough to guard, but we’re going to do what we know we can do to make it difficult for him.

“No. 3 (Micah Jones) is their point guard and their best ball handler. He’s tenacious driving to the basket and really runs the offense well. He’s great at being able to get their guys in place to score.”


Richmond is also preparing for junior wing Ryan Crotty and senior shooting guard Houston Wills, who Pettigrew said “can catch and shoot… and is a player we need to be able to find and slow down in transition.”

Defensively, the Golden Hawks run what Pettigrew described as a “scramble defense,” which is a mixture of man defense and the 3-2 zone.

“Our offense can score and we’ll be able to do that if we’re aggressive and attack the basket hard,” Pettigrew shared. “There’s a difference in talking about it and playing in the game, so it’ll be something we make adjustments with during the game.”

Riding a program-best 20-game winning streak, the Raiders will look to the same players who have done it all season on the scoreboard.

Jullien Cole (25.5 PPG in postseason), Paul McNeil Jr. (23.5 PPG in postseason) are the top two scorers in the last four games. A deep bench provides other scorers like Javian Drake (9.5 PPG) and Dakota Chavis (7.5 PPG).

It’s been 26 years since Pettigrew was a senior player on the Richmond team that finished second in the state for the second year in a row. With a different lens, some things have changed but the goal remains the same.

“It’s different from being a player then to now being the coach,” Pettigrew smiled. “It’s been 26 years since I was here as a player, and now I’m worried about every little thing as the coach.

“But I trust them and we’re excited our community has our backs. One of my goals coming back was to finish the job and win the state championship. We’ll come ready to play.”

No. 2 Richmond (27-2) will play No. 5 Holly Springs (26-5) at 4 p.m. on Saturday. 

According to the NCHSAA, tickets for the game are already sold out.

Below are some quick hits about the Holly Springs Golden Hawks:

  • Coached by L.J. Hepp, the Golden Hawks are on a seven-game winning streak and have posted a 3-2 record at neutral sites this winter. The team has won 18 of its last 19 games.
  • Richmond has played Holly Springs one other time during Pettigrew’s tenure, his first season in 2017-18. The Golden Hawks won 77-63 in the Holiday in the Pines tournament at Pinecrest High School.
  • Holly Springs also won its first four playoff games on its home court with a margin of victory of 23.0 points per game.
  • During the regular season, the Golden Hawks won the Southwest Wake Conference title and the conference tournament. Their only SWC loss was to Panther Creek in the regular-season finale, also the last time they lost.
  • In the postseason, Holly Springs has averaged 77.0 points per game, the highest average of any of Richmond’s postseason opponents. Jordan High School’s 69.3 PPG was the second highest.
  • On the other side of the floor, the Golden Hawks are allowing just 54.0 points a night on defense. They kept their first two playoff opponents under 50 points and their third and fourth round opponents scored 64 and 61 points, respectively.
  • In their 31 total games this winter, Holly Springs has netted 73.9 PPG and given up 57.3 PPG.
  • A team with more height than Richmond has seen recently, the Golden Hawks have 10 players over 6-0, five of whom are taller than 6-4.
  • No individual player statistics were available on MaxPreps or Hudl for the Golden Hawks.

Follow The Richmond Observer on Twitter @ROSports_ for live updates.

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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.