LAURINBURG — Sweat was dripping from Janoah McRae’s nose and chin as he back peddled down the court, trying to keep pace with his Pinecrest counterpart.
McRae and Pinecrest’s Kenston Gillespie made it just past the half-court line before McRae punched the ball out of Gillespie’s hands and dribbled the ball down the court for a basket.
The steal brought the Fighting Scots to within one of the Patriots, 51-50 with just over a minute left to play on Thursday. Scotland had given Pinecrest everything they had and all five Scots on the court, and the subs on the bench, were covered in sweat.
The Scots and Patriots exchanged baskets, before Pinecrest’s Jayson Jones missed his first free-throw of a one-and-one. Scotland came down with the rebound and with 10.2 seconds remaining but the ball in senior Niem Ratliffe’s hands. Ratliffe pulled up for a three to win the game, but his shot was blocked by two Pinecrest defenders.
The Patriots came down with the blocked shot and the Scots were forced to foul to stop the clock. With 1.4 seconds remaining, Pinecrest’s Matt Coe split his free throws to make it a 54-52 Patriots lead.
The Pinecrest fans in attendance got to the feet, thinking the Patriots had pulled off a fifth conference victory.
As time expired, Ratliffe pulled up with two Pinecrest defenders guard him, double pumped and let a shot fly from just past the three-point line — on the opposite end of the court.
The gym went silent as everyone watched Ratliffe’s shot, waiting to see if it would go in — then an explosion.
Ratliffe’s shot hit nothing but net to give the Scots the 55-54 win over the conference leading Patriots. Ratliffe was tackled in celebration by his teammates as people walked around with their mouths hanging open, in awe of what had just happened.
“It was a back-and-forth game, but in the fourth quarter we stumbled at the end,” Justin told WLNC. “We had a couple chances to take the lead and didn’t really get a good look. Niem was able to hit an 80-foot shot, it was behind the foul line, it win it.”
The Scots had a 22-14 lead at the end of the first quarter before Pinecrest rallied in the second with three back-to-back triples, one by Gillespie and two by Jamaan Bailey. A basket by Tyrell Allmond tied the game at 27 before Scotland hit one final basket to take a 29-27 lead into the locker room.
Pinecrest’s full-court pressure defense and increasing the tempo of the game as the Patriots forced four ties to end the third quarter knotted 46-46. The Scots kept their composure and didn’t let Pinecrest run away with the game, staying within three points of the Patriots the entire final period.
The steal by McRae and dunk by junior Isaiah Bostick brought the Scots to within one of the Patriots. The 55-54 upset by the Scots puts them in a tie for second place in the Sandhills Athletic Conference standings at 4-1. Hoke is the only remaining undefeated team in the SAC-8 at 5-0.
With the win, the Scots improve to 10-3 overall and 4-1 in conference play while Pinecrest moves to 12-2 and 4-1 in the SAC-8. The Scots don’t have much time to celebrate as they hosted Richmond on Friday night.
The team will hit the road next Wednesday, Jan. 17 to take on Westover in non-conference action. The Scots will return home on Jan. 19 to host Jack Britt. Tip off for both games is 7:30 p.m.
Amber Hatten-Staley can be reached at 910-506-3170 or firstname.lastname@example.org.