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Pinecrest's Ian Blue knocks away a rebound against Lumberton last week. Blue scored eight of his 14 points in the fourth quarter at Richmond, including the game-winner with seven seconds left. 

There’s a certain “grit” that the Pinecrest boys basketball team has when it is down, according to coach Ben Snyder, and it took every last drop of that grit on Wednesday night at Richmond.

Down by as much as 12 in the second half, the Patriots clawed their way back in the fourth quarter on the shoulders of its defense, and clutch shooting late helped claim the Sandhills Athletic Conference regular season championship in a 49-48 win over the Raiders.

“This is a group that over the last few years they expect to win,” Snyder said. “So when things aren’t going their way, usually you think it’s not our night or you have a little grit and fight to compete.”

Pinecrest’s (8-1, 6-0 SAC) comeback came as the defense limited Richmond (4-3, 3-2 SAC) to six points in the final period, all from the free-throw line to melt away a seven-point Raider advantage at the start the fourth quarter.

Senior guard Bradlee Haskell stepped in to take a handful of charges in the second half, to go along with his offensive lift the entire night.

“I know we get the ball back so why not take them,” Haskell said of stepping in for offensive fouls.

“We just knew we had to rebound the ball better, take care of the ball and get stops most of all. We were getting good shots all game, the shots were going to fall so we weren’t worried about that, we were just trying to take care of what we can control.”

And when the spotlight was on the senior, he came up with the game-winning assists for the second straight week as he found senior guard Ian Blue in the corner for an open 3-pointer that he hit to give Pinecrest a 49-48 lead with seven seconds left.

“We ran that play three times before and it was open every time,” Blue said. “I was waiting for the shot. I was open so I was going to let it ride.”

The final seven seconds was the only time Pinecrest led in the ballgame.

Extending the defense to force turnovers and clutch offense goes along with that grit that Snyder sees in this team, creating a ”hate to lose” mentality.

Last week against Lumberton, and Wednesday against Richmond, Haskell drew the eyes of the defense off the dribble, setting up game-winning scores for his teammates.

“I don’t care about that shot. As long as we win the game, that’s what matters,” Haskell said.

Haskell had 23 points in the game, and 13 of the Patriots’ 22 points in the first half. The second half brought a more balanced scoring attack with Haksell finding the open man.

“I knew he was going to be open in the corner because the guy kept jumping me every time,” Haskell said.

The selflessness of Haskell showed for the second time this season after being the player that wanted to take shots in those situations in years prior.

“That’s typical of what he’s done finding the open shooter two of the last four games for the game-winner,” Snyder said.

Before sinking the game-winner from the right corner, Blue saw his share of struggles in the first three quarters. Normally a second scoring option to complement Haskell, Blue had six points entering the fourth quarter.

The left-handed Blue hit a 3-pointer with a little more than two minutes left to trim the Richmond lead to 45-44. After being fouled on a 3-point attempt with 41 seconds left, Blue hit two of the three, leaving Pinecrest down 47-46, and he wanted another chance with the ball in his hand.

“There was something in my head today that it was going to come up to me and how I played,” Blue said.

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The Pinecrest boys basketball team enters the playoffs as the fourth seed in the 4A East and hosts Southeast Raleigh on Tuesday.

“I just knew it in my head the whole game. I was present in the game. I was really locked in. I knew something was going to go right for me the whole game if I kept playing hard and kept trying to hustle.”

Blue finished with 14 points.

The offensive execution that helped Pinecrest in the late stages of the game wasn’t there in the first 16 minutes as the Raiders went up 10-0 to start the game.

Pinecrest responded with a 9-0 run to trim the lead to 10-9, but a 10-2 run from the Raiders pushed the advantage back to 20-11 early in the second quarter.

Richmond freshman Paul McNeil scored eight of his team-high 15 points in the first half, including a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter. Richmond hit four treys in the opening period and two the rest of the way as Pinecrest chased the Raiders off the 3-point line.

Haskell scored eight of the Patriots’ 11 points in the second quarter to help keep them in striking distance at the intermission, 29-22.

“At halftime, I knew we weren’t playing our best. We practice to be great; we don’t practice to lose,” Blue said. “We knew we had to come out and be better.”

The regular season title for the Patriots locks in a top seed in the state playoffs that will begin in two weeks. After closing out the regular season at Hoke County on Friday, Pinecrest will be the top seed in next week’s Sandhills Athletic Conference tournament that will feature three rounds, including a consolation bracket, ensuring three games for all eight teams in the league.

Contact Jonathan Bym at (910) 693-2470 or jonathan@thepilot.com.

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