By McClain Baxley
For the Forsyth County News
For Pinecrest head coach John Bauersfeld, it was a great team comeback. For sophomore Oscar Lynch, it was a confidence builder. For senior Josh Boeye, it was expected.
Friday night’s 50-45 victory for the Paladins against Mt. Bethel was a blow-for-blow contest that had a wide range of emotion for both teams and came down to the last minute.
Both teams came out competitive and moved quickly. The Pinecrest student section was raucous and it was a great atmosphere for the first game of the new year.
Then a wave of silence took over as Mt. Bethel’s Luke Kirk screamed in pain with an ankle injury. The court was cleared as medical professionals and trainers tended to the senior. After Kirk was stretchered off, the PA announcer broke the silence with a prayer and a standing ovation from everyone in attendance.
Out of the break, Jayce Harrison hit two of his four 3-pointers of the night to give the visitors the lead. Harrison was all that a stingy defense from Pinecrest was allowing.
On offense, Lynch was working the Eagles defense and creating holes for other Paladins to find a balanced offense.
After a Pinecrest timeout, Lynch drove to the rim and went up for a slam to give his team a 26-25 lead with just over three minutes left in the half. That kind of confidence provided the boost Bauersfeld’s team needed to pull off the first victory against Mt. Bethel in program history.
“For O(scar Lynch) to step up as a sophomore and be that aggressive offensively was great,” Bauersfeld said. “Him driving to the basket, sometimes he’s a little hesitant to do that. When he got that dunk, that was big and now he knows he can do it again. It was a good moment for him.”
A few minutes later, Mt. Bethel had a dunk that brought the crowd to its feet dunk of its own as Harrison threw an alley oop to Jordan Meka to retake the lead.
Though the game was tied at half, a feeling that the Eagles were one big play from opening the game up lingered, but struggles at the free-throw line kept the home team hanging around.
As a team, Mt. Bethel went 5-for-18 from the charity stripe. Pinecrest used traps to force Mt. Bethel into short, sloppy possessions, of which the Paladins took advantage.
Harrison and Boeye exchanged threes to keep the game tied in the fourth quarter. Then Lynch came through again, this time on defense.
Down 45-42, Lynch stole the ball to give the Paladins possession with 2:30 in the game. Sophomore Tony Carpio was fouled as he drove and hit one of the free throws to make it a 45-43 game.
Bauersfeld called a timeout. Pinecrest trapped Mt. Bethel again and forced a turnover, but Lynch went 0-for-2 from the free-throw line to give the ball back to the Eagles with a two-point lead.
Harrison, who finished with 16 points and quarterbacked the Mt. Bethel offense, traveled in the corner to put the ball in Pinecrest’s hands with 1:16 in the game.
Carpio capped a short possession for Pinecrest with a dunk to tie the game.
“I thought our execution down the stretch, both defensively and offensively,” Bauersfeld said. “We made some timely shots against a really good team, and sometimes that's what it takes.”
With 27.6 seconds left and the game knotted at 45, Pinecrest called a timeout. The arena was on its feet, but was collectively nervous.
Out of the timeout, senior Caleb Bohn brought the ball down and started to drive the right side of the basket. To Bohn’s left stood a wide-open Boeye.
He passed his fellow senior the ball and Boeye did the rest.
“Coach drew it up two possessions before and it didn’t work,” Boeye said of the game-winning play. “I went back into the huddle and told coach we had to run it again. I knew I was going to be open, so I let it fly.”
A swish made it a 49-45 game with 7.1 seconds, Mt. Bethel turned it over and Lynch scored a layup as time expired to give the Paladins their fourth region win of the season.
“It’s a big time win at a crucial part in our season,” Boeye said. “Going into region play in January, it’s huge.”
Bauersfeld echoed the game-winner’s sentiments.
“(Last year) we played them three times, played them tough, but they beat us all three times,” Bauersfeld said. “For us, it’s a mental win. It’s a big confidence builder for our guys.”