By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
JACKSONVILLE – Piedmont freshman guard Rollie Pinto’s eyes lit up. He saw the ball right in front of him on a Geraldine inbound pass with a minute remaining Monday in the Class 3A Boys Northeast Basketball Regional semifinals.
Geraldine’s Jaxon Colvin slipped on the play, and Pinto alertly scooped the ball up and laid it in to provide Piedmont a three-point edge after the Bulldogs had been down by as many as 14 points.
Following Pinto’s basket, disaster struck Geraldine again on the trip up the court. Connor Johnson dribbled the ball off his foot out of bounds to give Piedmont the ball back with 20 seconds to go. Pinto was fouled on Piedmont’s ensuing inbound, and he sank both free throws to put the Bulldogs up five.
Junior forward Chance Murphy added a free throw late as sixth-ranked Piedmont escaped with a 65-59 victory.
“As soon as he fell (on the inbound) I was like ‘Whoa I gotta get that,’” Pinto said of the crucial turnover. “I got it, picked it up, and put it in the net. I felt so good to see the ball go through the net.”
And the Bulldogs felt good too, because it helped clinch a berth in the regional final against No. 3 Plainview on Thursday at 10:45 a.m.
It will be the seventh time the two teams do battle at Pete Mathews Coliseum, and the third time in the regional final. Plainview holds a 5-1 edge in their previous six postseason meetings, including a five-overtime thriller in the 2016 semifinals.
It took a comeback effort for the Bulldogs (25-5) to secure their latest regional final appearance.
“I thought we did a good job of battling in the second half,” Piedmont coach JoJo Odam said. “The first half we come out a little slow and they did a good job. We just weren’t hitting shots early. We talked at halftime we felt like we would make enough shots to win the game. We just had to get stops.”
Piedmont got exactly what it needed.
Geraldine (20-13) had limited Piedmont to just one shot and grabbed the rebound for much of the first half. The result was a 34-23 Geraldine advantage at halftime, but Piedmont managed to cut Geraldine’s lead to 49-45 heading into the fourth quarter.
Senior point guard and Jacksonville State signee Alex Odam tied the game at 56 on a rebound and layup with four minutes to go, but it was Murphy who gave Piedmont its first lead of the second half on a pair of free throws with 2:16 remaining at 60-59.
Murphy managed 10 points and 10 rebounds in the second half. He finished with 13 boards in the game.
“Chance did a great job of rebounding in the second half,” Coach Odam said. “He controlled the boards. He’s our energy guy. He’s going to give you 100-percent effort all the time. He made the (free throws) that we needed. I’m real proud of him.”
Ishmael Bethel led the Bulldogs with 19 points and seven rebounds. Alex Odam added 17 points and 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals. Pinto provided 14 points, three boards, three steals and an assist. Cole Wilson finished with five points.
Colvin and Johnson led Geraldine with 17 points apiece. Colvin also grabbed 14 rebounds. Johnson sank four 3-pointers, including three in the first half. Redick Smith collected 14 points, six boards, three assists and a steal. Lucas Bryant finished with seven points and nine rebounds.
“I thought we played hard. I thought we were right there,” Geraldine coach Jeremy Smith said. “I thought we had a good game plan. I thought we executed well. On the defensive end, I thought offensive rebounds hurt us in the second half. They got several second-chance points. We tried to limit them to one shot and they got another one or two or three and finally made one. I thought that was the difference in the game, when they got those offensive rebounds in the second half.
“We were trying to limit 1 (Alex Odam) and how many touches he got. We were going to make somebody else beat us.
“I just thought we played kind of a little tense. I thought that was a little bit of a factor when things got close.”