Michael Bruckner heard the noise from the Pinecrest Academy crowd after he delivered block after block. He didn’t hear specific words or phrases, nothing that stuck in his memory after the Paladins’ 78-61 victory over Tallulah Falls on Friday in a Region 8-A game at home.
But the senior forward remembers the noise that came from the student section in one corner and the Pinecrest bench in the other and the young kids sitting on the school’s stage behind the basket.
"It’s a lot of fun getting the crowd pumped up," Bruckner said. "I know it gets my teammates pumped up to play even harder. That’s what I like about it the most."
Bruckner provided the loudest highlights during the Paladins’ Senior Night victory as he scored 14 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked five shots.
"He was good around the basket," Pinecrest boys basketball coach Jay Lynch said. "Those 14 points, they were often contested. He was knocking down his jumpers. He was energetic. He did a fantastic job."
"You always want to go out there and play your best," Bruckner said, "but Senior Night is a whole different thing. It was just really awesome to have my teammates backing me up."
Nick Palmer had a game-high 15 points to go along with eight assists and six steals for Pinecrest (7-14, 6-5), which kept ahold of first place in its region sub-division. Sean Flanigan added 13 points, while Adam Guard had nine points, nine rebounds and five steals and Zayne Rice scored nine points and grabbed nine rebounds.
The Paladins were efficient on offense from the start. Coming off an 81-point effort against Athens Academy on Saturday, Pinecrest approached that mark again Friday. Ten players scored in all.
"I think we played well, especially offensively," Bruckner said. "Our team is getting along better, which is really good because we’ve got the region tournament coming up."
Pinecrest took control of the game just before the end of the first quarter when Guard hit a 3 at the buzzer to put the Paladins up 22-15. It turned into a 14-0 run that gave Pinecrest a 33-15 lead midway through the second quarter.
When Tallulah Falls (4-12, 1-10) cut the lead to 7 at 43-36 in the third quarter, Pinecrest responded. A 17-7 run made it 60-43 at the end of the third quarter. Senior Nick Barwick hit a 3 to push to the lead to 20 in the fourth quarter. After the Indians missed two free throws, Bruckner hit a short hook shot to make it 22.
"At this point of year, we’re playing well," Bruckner said. "We had a couple of tough losses, recently, but I think that motivated us to play with a drive to go out and prove that we’re a better team than our record may say we are or other people may say we are."
Pinecrest girls 57, Tallulah Falls 31
It almost looked like Amanda Boyd’s Senior Night ended too soon. The Lady Paladins’ senior sat on the bench after picking up her fourth foul with 4:02 left in the third quarter. She returned to start the fourth quarter, but when she went up for a block and heard a whistle, Boyd made her way to the bench as if her night was over. Even the public announcer said Boyd committed the foul.
But it was all premature. Boyd was not called for the foul, and so the senior left the court on her own terms, hitting one more free throw to finish off a 15-point, seven-rebound night in a 8-A region win at home.
"She wanted to play more," Pinecrest girls basketball coach Theresa Guard said. "She got in a little foul trouble but did a great job controlling the ball and driving to the hoop."
Christina Benson added nine points, six rebounds and two steals for the Lady Paladins (4-17, 4-6).
When Tallulah Falls (1-15, 0-8) cut Pinecrest’s lead to 14-12 just 49 seconds into the second quarter, Boyd gave the Lady Paladins a spark. She drew a foul in the bonus and made both free throws to start a 12-1 run. Boyd scored six points during the run to help Pinecrest take a 26-13 lead with 3:51 left in the half.
The Lady Paladins closed the final 3:25 of the half on a 10-1 run to take a 37-17 lead and never look back.
"I think we’re playing our best," Guard said. "We’re peaking at the right time. Just got to put it all together and see how we can do in the region tournament."