E.A. Sports Today

Pinto’s pivotal play powers Piedmont

Piedmont overcomes cold stretch, rallies in second half to outlast Geraldine in 3A Northeast Regionals; Plainview uses two big runs to turn back Glencoe in other semifinal

Piedmont’s Ish Bethel goes up for a dunk against Geraldine in their Class 3A Northeast Regional semifinal Monday in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Greg Warren)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – Rollie Pinto saw the ball bouncing in his direction and a big smile crossed his face. All he could think of was scooping it up and he had to score.

He got step one, finished with step two and it only became the biggest play of the game.

The freshman guard’s scoop and score with 65 seconds left gave Piedmont a three-point lead in a highly charged regional semifinal and was the emotional dagger that carried the Bulldogs to a 65-59 victory over Geraldine in the Class 3A Northeast Regionals at Jacksonville State.

“I was just so happy when it came out,” Pinto said. “As soon as he fell I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get that.’ When it hit the ground I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have a chance to lay up it up. As I was going to put it up, I was like, ‘This is real big,’ I was real excited.

“That got me back to where I was playing in the middle of year, like real confident. It just got me where I needed to be going into the next game: real confident, just excited about playing another one.”

And that other one will be Thursday in the 10:45 a.m. regional finals against Plainview. It’ll be the third time in the last six years – and first since 2019 – the teams have met with a trip to the Final Four on the line. They played a memorable five-overtime game in the semifinals in 2016.

Pinto’s pivotal play might not have happened if something bad didn’t happen to the Bulldogs the play before.

Chance Murphy gave Piedmont (25-5) its first lead since late in the first quarter 60-59 on a pair of free throws with 2:16 to play and the Bulldogs got the ball back after Geraldine missed a 3. They were milking the clock down when Alex Odam dribbled the ball off his foot out of bounds.

Geraldine (20-13), also the Bulldogs, set up a typical inbounds play along press row near midcourt, but Cooper Johnson slipped before he could get to Jaxon Colvin’s pass. Pinto picked it up mid-stride and easily laid it in to make it 62-59.

“Once we got behind you have to do things that you normally don’t do,” Geraldine coach Jeremy Smith said. “It was just one of those things he just slipped there and fell. They really weren’t putting any pressure on us so to speak. It was a close game, obviously, they weren’t going to foul right there. He just slipped, wound up with a turnover and they got a bucket out of it. It’s pretty much over at that point.”

“I don’t think it’s Cooper’s fault,” Colvin said. “I think if we played better defense, got rebounds, that wouldn’t have led to that.”

Piedmont coach JoJo Odam didn’t necessarily feel the game was in the bag after that play the way Geraldine shoots the ball, but things certainly were looking that way – especially with what happened next.

The Bulldogs guarded the arc to make any 3-point shot difficult and as Geraldine worked to get one Connor Johnson stepped on the sideline with 20.2 seconds left. Pinto got fouled immediately and hit two free throws to make it a five-point game with 17.2 seconds left and the coach could finally exhale.

Geraldine missed a pair of 3s at the other end of the floor, Murphy rebounded the second miss and was fouled. He hit the second of his two free throws with 4.1 seconds left to put it out of reach.

Murphy was big off the bench, especially in the second half. He scored all 10 of his points, hitting 6-of-9 free throws, and grabbed 10 of his 13 rebounds in the final two quarters.

“I’d say that he may be (the big difference) in the second half,” JoJo Odam said. “Defensively and rebounding he just controlled the boards. He’s an energy guy anyway, he’s going to give you 100 percent effort all the time, but his effort on the defensive end and rebounding.

“And he hit free throws. I don’t know if he’s one of our better free throw shooters, but he was today. I don’t know what he was from the line, but he made the ones that we needed.”

Piedmont looked in trouble early. Geraldine held the Bulldogs scoreless for more than six minutes between the first and second quarters, while running off a 13-0 speed that turned a 14-12 deficit into a 25-14 lead. Piedmont went 0-for-11 from the field in the run, missing several open looks.

“I thought our game plan was great,” Smith said. “We were trying to limit 1 (Alex Odam) and how many touches he got and we were going to make somebody else beat us. And we gave them one shot and that was one. And we were able to score a little bit there, too, and it always makes you look better … when you’re scoring on one end, you’re defense looks better on the other end.”

Although the long drought made things look bleak, Odam wasn’t worried. The Bulldogs have been in this position before and he knew his team’s fortunes would turn.

“We just weren’t hitting shots early,” he said. “We talked about it at halftime how we felt we were going to make enough shots to win the game, we just had to make them. And we had to get stops. We played better defense in the second half.”

That “somebody else” turned out to be Ish Bethel. When the Bulldogs were missing shots early in the game Bethel usually was right there to put the shot back in the hole. He had three putback buckets The Bulldogs missed shots during their cold spell, obviously, but this time no one was there to clean them up.

Bethel led all scorers with 21 points. Pinto had 12. Alex Odam had 17 points to run his career total of 3,217. He remains 12th on the state’s all-time scoring list, four from jumping into the top 10.

GERALDINE (20-13) –
Jaxon Colvin 6-23 4-5 17, Connor Johnson 6-10 1-2 17, Jayse Cook 1-1 0-0 2, Redick Smith 5-14 2-2 14, Lucas Bryant 3-11 0-0 7, Cooper Johnson 0-2 0-0 0, Brock Gilbert 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 22-64 7-9 59.
PIEDMONT (25-5) – Alex Odam 6-19 3-4 17, Rollie Pinto 2-12 7-8 12, Ish Bethel 9-17 2-2 21, Rhett Alford 0-0 0-0 0, Coleman Wilson 2-8 0-0 5, Colton Proctor 0-1 0-0 0, Luke Rhinehart 0-0 0-0 0, Chance Murphy 2-3 6-9 10. Totals 21-60 18-23 65.
Geraldine    15  19  15  10 –  59
Piedmont    14    9  22  20 –  65
3-point goals: Geraldine 8-24 (Colvin 1-6, Cn. Johnson 4-6, Smith 2-9, Bryant 1-3); Piedmont 5-26 (Odam 2-4, Pinto 1-8, Bethel 1-6, Wilson 1-7, Proctor 0-1). Rebounds: Geraldine 44 (Colvin 14); Piedmont 41 (Murphy 13, Odam 10). Total fouls: Geraldine 14, Piedmont 12. Officials: Scott, Morrison, Satterfield.

Plainview’s Luke Smith (14) goes up for a layup between Glencoe’s Garrett Morgan (2) and Jayden Patton.

Plainview pulls away

JACKSONVILLE – Ryan Chambless knew his team’s margin for error against a team as deep and experienced as Plainview was razor thin. His Glencoe team was right there with the Bears late in the first half … and then the storm hit.

Plainview ran off a 15-3 run without allowing a field goal in the final 3:40 of the first half to take control of the game, then the Bears pulled away with a big fourth quarter to win their Class 3A Northeast Regional semifinal 83-46 and end the Yellow Jackets’ otherwise exceptional season.

The Bears (28-6) will play Piedmont Thursday for the region’s spot to the Final Four.

Plainview will be playing in the regional finals for the seventh time in eight years. Glencoe (18-13) was in the regional for the first time since 2017.

“We knew our margin for error was going to be pretty small,” Chambless said, “but I kept telling those guys we’re going to fight them, we’re going to play hard every play, we’re going to scrap like we have all year. I thought we did. I thought we competed really hard and made some plays.

“It got away from us in the last minute of the first half and again in the third and we didn’t score real well. We knew we couldn’t do that if we were going to have a chance to win. We couldn’t go back-to-back possessions without scoring.”

The Jackets fell behind 20-8 in the first quarter, but opened the second with back-to-back 3-pointers by Garrett Morgan to give the Bears something to think about. Another Morgan 3 got them within 25-21 with 3:48 to play. The sophomore was 3-for-3 behind the arc and led the Yellow Jackets with 19 points.

It was at that point Plainview turned things up a notch and got back to their principles. The Bears stretched the margin with a 22-4 fourth quarter.

“We want to create the storm (rather than wait for it),” Plainview coach Robi Coker said. “Our whole thing today was about energy and effort, let’s make sure we come out and play extremely hard. The message today was go 1-0 and that’s what this group did.”

Plainview placed four of its five starters in double figures – Dylan Haymon (14), Landon White (15), Luke Smith (20) and Jonah Williams (18). Williams scored 15 points and three of his 3-pointers in the second half.

PLAINVIEW (28-6) –
Levi Brown 3-4 0-0 7, Dylan Haymon 5-10 3-3 14, Landon White 7-9 1-4 15, Luke Smith 9-15 2-2 20, Jonah Williams 7-13 0-0 18, Joseph Hutcheson 1-1 0-0 3, Owen Wilborn 1-1 1-2 3, Ben Chandler 1-1 0-0 3, Caleb Clines 0-0 0-0 0, Ian Martin 0-0 0-0 0, Sawyer Fraley 0-2 0-0 0, Brody Long 0-0 0-0 0, Ty Griggs 0-1 0-0 0, Austin Anderson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 34-57 7-11 83.
GLENCOE (18-13) – Morgan Garrett 5-7 6-8 19, Aiden Cornutt 5-11 2-4 13, Wade Segrest 1-8 0-1 2, Braylen Smith 0-2 0-0 0, Andrew Greene 4-4 0-1 8, Colt Russell 0-1 1-2 1, Cooper Horton 1-1 1-2 3, Jayden Patton 0-0 0-0 0, Bryce Borntrager 0-0 0-0 0, Grant Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Aiden Johnson 0-1 0-0 0, Nolan Fairley 0-0 0-0 0, Davis Honeycutt 0-0 0-0 0, Kevin Rodriguez 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 16-36 10-18 46.
Plainview  20  20  21  22 –  83
Glencoe      8   16  18    8 –  46
3-point goals: Plainview 8-18 (Brown 1-2, Haymon 1-3, Smith 0-1, Williams 4-9, Hutcheson 1-1, Chandler 1-1, Griggs 0-1); Glencoe 4-12 (Morgan 3-3, Cornutt 1-5, Segrest 0-2, Braylen 0-1, Rodriquez 0-1). Rebounds: Plainview 30 (White 7, Smith 6); Glencoe 21 (Morgan 6, Greene 5). Total fouls: Plainview 18, Glencoe 9. Officials: Green, George, Scott.

Cover photo: Piedmont’s Rollie Pinto shoots a 3-pointer against Geraldine during their Class 3A Northeast Regional semifinal Monday in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Greg Warren)

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