Pinecrest Claims First-Ever Title in Holiday Tournament It Hosts
Resting her starters in the second half of Monday's opening-round win in the Lady Patriot Holiday Invitational wasn't the most popular decision Pinecrest girls' basketball coach Alvita Thomas has ever made.
At one point, point guard Jennie Joy got up off the bench and volleyed at her coach, "This is killing me!"
But the move may well have resulted in Pinecrest's first-ever championship in the annual pre-Christmas tournament it hosts.
Facing Southeastern Conference rival Richmond in the finals Tuesday night, the Lady Patriots broke a 46-all tie with a 17-5 run to open the fourth quarter and held off a furious rally to claim a 68-65 win.
"In the end, we kicked it up a notch because we were rested," said Thomas. "I think that made all the difference, because they were tired."
The title is the first for Pinecrest in three trips to the finals and seven years hosting the Lady Patriot Holiday Invitational. The Lady Patriots improved to 6-4 with the win, while Richmond fell to 7-1 after suffering its first loss of the season.
"The girls really hung in there," said Thomas. "They're excited, I'm excited. We're pumped up about winning this tournament."
Pinecrest point guard Jennie Joy, who transferred from the O'Neal School during the offseason, was named the event's Most Valuable Player after averaging 12 points, 4.0 assists and 4.5 steals in two tournament games.
"It means a lot to me, this being my first year here," she said. "This team has welcomed me like a family, and I promised them, 'If you give it your all, I will help you win this tournament.'"
Pinecrest's leading scorer for the season, forward Candice Seagraves, led the effort against Richmond with a double-double of 25 points and 10 rebounds. She joined Joy on the All-Tournament team, along with Richmond's Lashay Brown, Southern Lee's Anelia Smith and Grace Christian's Taylor Comte.
Pinecrest opened the game with an 11-4 run, but Richmond answered with an 11-4 run of its own to knot the score at 15 with 5:34 remaining in the second quarter. The score was tied 26-all at halftime and 46-all at the end of the third quarter.
Seagraves made her presence felt with 1:04 remaining in the third quarter, taking a steal coast-to-coast for a lay-up that gave Pinecrest a 44-40 lead. Richmond answered with three baskets within 41 seconds of each other to take a 46-44 lead, but Seagraves made a pair of free throws in the closing seconds of the third quarter to tie the score for the 10th and final time.
The lead changed hands for the 13th and final time in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, when Keegan Lynch scored off a Joy assist to put Pinecrest ahead 48-46. That started Pinecrest on its game-clinching 17-5 fourth-quarter run.
"We saw that they were tired, so we had to push the ball more and beat them down the court," said Joy. "You're tired too, but you have to suck it up. You have to keep pushing, because the outcome could be great."
Troubled by fouls for much of the game, freshman forward Janea Williams played a major role in the run, scoring six of her eight points while grabbing all six of her rebounds in the final period. With Williams on the floor with Seagraves for an extended period for the first time in the game, the Lady Patriots flipped the battle of the boards in the fourth quarter.
"Coach just said we've got to get up, we've got to use our height to our advantage, and in the fourth quarter I think we did that," said Seagraves.
Added Thomas of her two tallest players, "When they're in there together, it's pretty much no stopping them."
Small forward Felicia Painter played a major role down the stretch and finished with 13 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals. She scored six points in the fourth quarter and pulled down five of her six boards in the second half.
Pinecrest matched its largest lead at 65-53 after a Williams basket with 1:51 remaining, but Richmond answered with a 10-1 run over the next 1:34, pulling to within 66-63 on a pair of Shaquitta Covington free throws with 17 seconds showing on the clock.
The ensuing inbound went to Ashleigh McKenzie, Pinecrest's leading scorer with 17 points in Monday's win over Grace, and the shooting guard scored her only two points of the game from the free throw line with 8.4 seconds remaining to seal the win.
"They were really focusing on Ashleigh, because they saw her play (Monday) night," said Thomas. "They didn't see what other weapons we had."
Pinecrest won despite being out-rebounded 42-32 and turning the ball over 27 times to Richmond's 19.
The Lady Raiders had a pair of players post double-doubles. Brown finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds and six steals, while I'teionna McLaughlin scored 11 points and added 10 rebounds and four steals. Covington finished with 12 points.
In the third-place game, Southern Lee (5-6) defeated Grace Christian of Sanford (11-5) 61-47, led by 19 points from Smith.
Pinecrest is scheduled to play again Jan. 5 at Flora MacDonald Academy.
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