FAIRBURN – Pinecrest Academy girls basketball coach Ken Lacy knew it could come down to free-throw shooting.
Landmark Christian, the Lady Paladins’ opponent Wednesday in the second round of the Class 1A private school tournament, seemed an even match. It had a dynamic penetrator in Elizabeth Gibbs. It was productive on the boards between Gibbs, Paige Aronhalt and Kyelin Knowles. It had accurate outside shooters.
But Lacy thought his Pinecrest team was just a bit better from the free-throw line.
He was right.
The Lady Paladins made clutch free throws down the stretch to hold Landmark for a 69-65 victory to advance to the state quarterfinals, extending Pinecrest’s best-ever run in the state tournament since joining the GHSA.
“We’re a good free-throw shooting team. It’s something we pride ourselves on,” Lacy said. “We’re not strong in the post. We have to be good in all the other areas.”
Pinecrest was led by the Metz sisters. Margaret had a game-high 36 points, while Regina added 27, but it was her last points – two free throws with 4.2 seconds left and the Lady Paladins’ ahead 67-65 – that sealed the game.
Pinecrest had a fragile lead for much of the game, leading 21-16 after the first quarter and 38-31 at halftime. Landmark cut the lead to 48-46 by the end of the third quarter, but Pinecrest pulled ahead 62-52 with just over 2 minutes left in the game.
Then foul trouble started to catch up for both teams. Landmark pulled within 65-62 with 19.5 seconds left in the game, even without Gibbs, who had fouled out.
“In that last minute or so, it really did turn into a free-throw shooting contest,” Lacy.
That Pinecrest won.
But the Lady Paladins’ reward is a fourth meeting with St. Francis, the two-time defending Class 1A private school state champions that defeated Pinecrest in all three of their games this season by scores of 71-53, 92-45 and 91-40 in the Region 6-1A championship game.
“We’re going to try to come up with a unique strategy,” Lacy said. “Definitely feel like we’re a Final Four team in the right bracket.”