Despite the fact it’s the holiday season, Friday night felt more like an evening in February when Union Pines hosted Moore County rival Pinecrest in both boys and girls basketball action.
February is playoff time, and that was the type of intensity on display in both games, both from the athletes and the fans.
The two schools split, with Union Pines winning the girls game 45-34, and then the Patriot boys prevailing in the nightcap 71-35. Both winners are currently undefeated.
Although they are in close proximity, it was the first meeting in six years on the basketball court. Union Pines is a member of the Cape Fear Valley 3A conference, while Pinecrest is in the Southeastern 4A.
The gym was packed from the outset, and both student sections cheered enthusiastically up to the final minutes of the boys game, which had basically been decided by intermission.
Vikings senior Nyona Shields, who led her team with 20 points, summed it up best.
“We really had to keep our composure tonight, because we usually never see a crowd this big,” Shields said.
The Vikings (9-0) led almost from the beginning, but the Patriots (5-4) stayed close and were within three points just before the end of the third quarter.
Hadiya Balser’s layup with one second left in the third gave Union Pines a 28-23 lead, and they dominated the final period, with Shields scoring 11 points in the quarter.
“We stress defense and have relied on that this year,” said Union Pines coach Greg Mayer. “The girls really made some good adjustments after halftime, and really tried to take (the Patriots) out of their element and what they like to do.”
Pinecrest freshman Keyana McLaughlin still scored 15 points, but the Viking defense swarmed to her and forced other Patriots to try to hit outside shots, which just weren’t falling.
Union Pines has already beaten conference foes Terry Sanford and Gray’s Creek, and will host Cleveland on Monday.
The Patriots (11-0) never trailed and led 47-19 at halftime in a fast-paced game that featured Pinecrest hitting 10 3-point shots and displaying excellent ball movement.
Senior point guard Donnie Haith led the Patriots with 11 points, but it was a balanced attack that featured six other Pinecrest players finishing with at least six points. Most of the baskets were assisted, as the Patriots consistently made the extra pass to find open shooters and guys cutting to the basket.
“Donnie (Haith) really sparked us in the first part of that second quarter, and our guys feed off that,” said Pinecrest coach Ben Snyder. “These guys don’t care who gets the credit, and they really enjoy making that extra pass. It’s a fun team to coach.”
Haith said that the Pinecrest defense is really what determines their offense, and Snyder agreed.
“We got a lot of deflections out of the gates tonight, and that allowed us to get out in transition,” Snyder said. “A lot of credit for that goes to Fred (Goins), Phillip (Russell), Matt Coe, and Jayson Jones.”
Along with Haith, Jamaan Bailey (8 points), Richard Johnson (9) and Kenston Gillespie (10) fueled the Patriot offense in the first half, either connecting on three pointers or finding a wide open teammate under the basket.
Pinecrest will compete in the Holiday at the Pines Tournament after Christmas.
Kamua Fairley came off the bench to lead the Vikings (3-6).