Pinelands Boys Hoops Squad Makes History By Ousting Gloucester Tech in State Tourney

By DAVID BIGGY | Feb 28, 2018
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

For several weeks, the excitement about hosting the first state-tournament boys basketball game in history had been brewing inside Pinelands Regional High School. The only development that topped the excitement on Feb. 26 was the way the Wildcats played in the first half of the contest.

“Everyone was hyped,” said junior guard Anthony Diaz, who scored 15 points as the fifth-seeded Wildcats crushed 12th-seeded Gloucester Tech, 70-42, during the first round of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III tournament. “We’ve never hosted or won a state tournament game. We’ve never been undefeated at home for an entire season. We’ve never had the chance to have this type of game in our gym. And we were ready to make history tonight.”

With hundreds of cheering fans filling even the second tier of bleachers, the Wildcats blazed a path to victory – their first ever in the state tourney. In the first half, they shot 9-for-12 from behind the three-point arc en route to a 41-18 lead.

“This was a big game for us and we had a great atmosphere with so many fans here tonight,” said junior Andrew Schulz, who tickled the twine with six trifectas in a 28-point effort. “Anthony and I were hot. The team recognized that and kept getting us the ball. The first quarter was just us working hard and playing for each other, and everything just fell into place from there. We played our game and put ourselves in a position to win it kind of easily.”

The Cheetahs (11-16) grabbed the initial lead with a bucket 40 seconds into the contest, but the lead didn’t last for long, as Diaz and Schulz buried back-to-back treys within 28 seconds of each other to push the Wildcats into the lead, and that’s where they stayed.

With Pinelands (14-10) leading, 8-6, midway through the quarter, the Wildcats started a 14-2 run when Schulz dropped in a reverse layup on a putback of a Diaz miss, adding a foul shot to complete a three-point play to make it 11-6 with 3:51 to go. He culminated the run by draining three more three-pointers, the last with a second left in the quarter.

After a Gloucester Tech three-pointer kicked off the second quarter, Pinelands went on an 19-3 spurt to stretch their margin to 27 points, 41-14 – finished off when Diaz dropped another trey with 53 seconds left in the half and sophomore Ryan Skeie added a free throw 23 seconds later. The Cheetahs scored four to close out the half, but the Wildcats switched to cruise control for the third quarter as the game became more of a foul-shooting contest.

“I was so focused on one possession at a time, I didn’t realize how well we were shooting in the first half,” said head coach Fred Johnson. “It was pretty incredible. But I have no apologies. I’ll take it.”

Leading 51-27 after three quarters, Pinelands continued to extend its lead, which became 32 points after Arpit Gainder drained a pair of foul shots to make it 63-31 with 4:19 to go. Wilkinson buried three more free throws, Aniello Lubrano and Andrew Bartlett each added two foul shots to cap the scoring. Skeie finished with seven points, while Luke Wiatrowski tallied six and Gainder finished with five.

“We were coming into the game undefeated at home for the season, and we wanted to continue that streak,” Schulz said. “This was a great win for our school and our community.”

With their next game on the road to face fourth-seeded Delsea – it was scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 28 – and another victory from likely traveling to play top-seeded Timber Creek, the Wildcats finished 11-0 on their home court. Johnson hopes the team’s accomplishments this year spur many youngsters throughout the community to possibly choose to play hoops at the school sometime in the future.

“This win was great for our program because there were a lot of kids in the seats tonight,” he said. “We’re trying to build a steady and sustainable program, with the idea that we’re carving out our identity by winning consistently on our home court. This was just another step in a positive direction for our program.”

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