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Thursday, 25 February 2021 23:12

No. 14 Raiders exit playoffs after contested loss at No. 6 Apex Friendship

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The Raiders break a huddle during Thursday's second-round playoff loss. The Raiders break a huddle during Thursday's second-round playoff loss. Kyle Pillar — Sports Editor.

APEX, N.C. — Richmond Senior High School’s Cinderella run through the NCHSAA 4A state playoffs came to an end Thursday, but it wasn’t without a fight by the Raiders.

Coming off an opening-round upset win on Tuesday, the No. 14 Raiders couldn’t overcome a third-quarter slump at No. 6 Apex Friendship High School. 

Despite big scoring performances from senior Nygie Stroman and freshman Paul McNeil, the Raiders fell 86-70, seeing their season come to an end.

The second round of the state playoffs has been the Raiders’ biggest foe the last three seasons, resulting in Richmond and head coach Donald Pettigrew exiting the tournament each year after their second game.

Although it wasn’t the outcome the team wanted, Pettigrew was moved by his players’ efforts against the undefeated Patriots. In a shortened season that was shadowed by the loss of former teammate Jalen David, Pettigrew applauded Richmond’s dedication to making the most out of the 2021 campaign.

“Our team went through so much this year. Losing Jalen, we wanted to win this game for him, but unfortunately we came up short,” Pettigrew said. “The guys played so hard and in the playoffs we know that we’ll face really good teams.

“I told the guys to stay positive and keep their heads up. I just really hate it for our seniors.”

Stroman and fellow seniors Dylan Lewis, Patrick McLaughlin and Travis Thomas all capped their high school careers against the Patriots (16-0). Stroman, a three-year varsity starter, led Richmond with 25 points, including five three-pointers, and added three rebounds.

McLaughlin, the team’s floor general the last three seasons, netted all of his 11 points in the second half. He chipped in three assists, three steals and two rebounds. Lewis, a two-year varsity player, netted five points and snagged five rebounds.

McNeil aided the Raiders’ scoring with 24 points, 20 points coming in the second half. He went a perfect 9-for-9 at the free throw line and led the team with nine boards.

“The first four minutes, we came out strong and we hit some shots,” Pettigrew said. “Defensively we made some stops and rebounded well. We can’t have lapses, but I’m so pleased with how hard everyone played.”

In a first half defined by big runs by both teams, Richmond opened the game on a 10-2 spurt. Stroman and freshman Jamarion Wall both hit a triple and a bucket to put the Raiders up eight points at the 4:35 mark.

But a triple by Kenny Noland, who finished with 26 points, started a 15-0 run by Apex Friendship that spanned the remainder of the quarter and into the start of the second frame.

A drive through the paint by Lewis at the 7:17 mark of the second ended the Patriots’ run, and sparked a 14-3 scoring stretch by the Raiders to put them back up 24-20. Stroman had 10 of those points, including a pair of triples, and McNeil started his scoring with a mid-range jumper.

To close the first half, the Patriots responded with an 8-3 run, featuring a triple from Gabe Proctor, who scored a game-high 27 points. At the break, Richmond trailed 28-27.

“Apex Friendship played a heck of a game and was tough in transition,” Pettigrew said. “They moved the ball well and it was a little overwhelming for us. But that’s a part of playoff basketball, we have to be ready to play 32 minutes.

“We had a bad third quarter, and that’s been the story all year,” he continued. “We shot the ball but it didn’t fall. We scored 43 points in the second half which was really good, but Apex scored 58. That was the big difference.”

Apex Friendship opened the third on a 12-1 run, but then both teams traded buckets, and a drive from McNeil at the 1:42 mark pulled the Raiders within five points, 43-38. But that would be the closest Richmond would get to the lead the rest of the game.

McLaughlin, who played through a shoulder injury, scored six points in the third and McNeil added eight points, six coming on free throws. Richmond trailed 50-40 after three periods.

A 30-point fourth quarter by Richmond (8-5), which saw 13 points from McNeil and 10 points from Stroman, was outpaced by 36 points from the Patriots. Lewis added a pair of free throws and McLaughlin ended his night with a contested triple and two shots from the line.

Battling to the final buzzer, McNeil netted the team’s final points of the season on a three-pointer from just inside the halfcourt line.

“Our seniors have been a staple with our program the last three years, and Travis helped us in his first year with the team,” Pettigrew said. “They haven’t had a losing season and that’s tremendous for them.

“P.J. was hurt and I tried to rest him and he played through the pain. That says a lot about him. Nygie has been our leader the last three years, and he’s been a matchup nightmare. If a college doesn’t get him, they’re missing out.

“Dylan has come so far in his confidence and being a vocal leader. We will miss their leadership and all the work they put in,” he closed. 

Kyle Pillar

Nine-time N.C. Press Association award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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