LILBURN — Pinecrest’s boys basketball team knew they were more than prepared.
By looking at records alone, it was easy to write off the Paladins on Wednesday in their second-round playoff matchup with Providence Christian, a team that had only lost twice all year.
But as the Paladins took the Storms’ home court to a chorus of boos, that didn’t matter a bit. What did was their own mentality, forged by one of the toughest schedules in all of Class 1A Private.
“I think we were just confident because we know we've played the No. 1 team in the state in St. Francis,” Pinecrest boys coach John Bauersfeld said. “We’ve played the No. 2 team in the state in Mount Pisgah. We've played the No. 3 team in the state and we beat the No. 2 and 3 teams. It's just a mindset for them.”
And that mindset never wavered, with the Paladins jumping to an early lead that they never gave up. After a tight first half, Pinecrest’s hot shooting and stingy defense took over in the third quarter, ultimately securing a 64-53 road win.
The victory was a milestone for the Paladins’ boys program, marking the first time the team has made the Elite Eight as a member of the GHSA. They’ll play Greenforest next week.
“I’m so happy for those kids, especially the seniors,” Bauersfeld said. “They've been starting since they were freshmen, and it was rough early because they were young. For them to just rise to the occasion and get to the Elite Eight is just such an awesome feeling for them.
“They've been battle-tested and they've played some really difficult teams throughout the year. coming out and playing well against these guys was important to them.”
Pinecrest (17-11) began the game with a 7-0 run, fueled by two shots from senior Caleb Bohn. Despite a run from the Storm late in the frame, the Paladins led by four entering the second. Bohn, Oscar Lynch and Josh Boeye continued to pace the Paladins in the second, but by the end of the first half, Pinecrest was still trying to create some distance, leading the Storm by a slim 33-29 edge.
But in the third, the Paladins began to do the most damage, working to a 45-32 lead with 5:10 left in the period after a Boeye 3-pointer. The Storm were held to just eight points in the quarter, while Pinecrest came away with 17. From that point on, Providence didn't come close again, trailing the Paladins 50-37 entering the fourth.
"It was our defense," Boeye said. "At halftime, coach (told us) we had to get some stops. That's what we did all throughout the third quarter to help us build that lead."
Boeye led the Paladins with 23 points and reached a milestone of his own in the second half, recording his 1,000th career point. Lynch and Bohn had 11 points each.
"(Boeye) was battling injuries," Bauersfeld said. "We weren't certain if he was going to get it, but if you keep playing games you've got a chance, right? He stepped up again tonight. He hit some huge shots early and just got himself going. He just played a whale of a game."
But for Boeye, the individual accolades didn't measure up to what he'd just achieved with his team, especially with his fellow seniors that he's gone through everything with.
"All four of us seniors have been here since we were freshmen," Boeye said. "We've been here since the beginning — it means a lot."