Pisgah JV boys prove doubters wrong with tournament title

Mar. 1—After starting the season 13-0, Pisgah's junior varsity boys' basketball team dropped four of its next five games.

"It's a long season, and to get through a long season, sometimes you have a lull," said head coach Ben Rhodarmer. "We were playing well, but we came back in the second semester of getting back to school and back in the weight room, and we were dealing with soreness. The challenges that we faced were that kind of thing."

But the boys weren't phased by a hiccup. They buckled down, focused on their goal — a conference tournament title — and made it happen. The team won its final four games and earned a bid as one of four in the Mountain 7 Conference Tournament.

"We played our best basketball when we needed to be," Rhodarmer said. And part of that success was having the right players to carry out the vision.

Talented roster

"We returned four starters from last year, and they played most of the minutes," Rhodarmer said. "I can't say enough how hard these guys played."

Pisgah returned Kenyon Moore, Andrew Hardin, Ben Frazier and Johnny Flowers from last season.

"All of them, in their own way, contributed to our success.They all played well down the stretch," Rhodarmer said.

Freshman Maddox Wright, who Rhodarmer calls "a big presence in the post," was the newcomer to the starting lineup.

And guys who came into games off the bench, like Micah Devlin and Jayse Creson added valuable minutes.

"They came in every day and played as hard as they could and pushed the guys who were getting the minutes," Rhodarmer said. "Without a good look in practice, you're not going to be ready for the game."

Conference tournament

When the conference tournament bracket was finalized, Pisgah drew East Henderson, a familiar foe.

"We just played them a week earlier and beat them on a last-second shot right at the buzzer," Rhodarmer said.

On that play, Moore passed the ball to Flowers, who passed it down low to Wright for the game-winning bucket. Part of the play was trusting the players, Rhodarmer said.

"We didn't call a timeout with six seconds left. Coach [Nathan] Messer and I agreed to let them play it out," he said. Rhodarmer said the game-winning play was about "reacting, not thinking."

A casual fan, then, would think to draw East Henderson again in the semifinals was a gift. But the Eagles are no slouch team. They won the conference and the conference tournament the year before.

The last two years I've been here, they've been one of the best-coached teams," Rhodarmer said. "They don't have a lot of size, but they make up for it by being able to shoot."

The size advantage was Pisgah's, a team made up of a lot of big-bodied, athletic players, Rhodarmer said.

"We played well defensively in the first half," he said. "We would push ahead, and then East Henderson would come back."

But, in the final minutes of the game, the score got close. In basketball, teams force a foul and send the opponent to the free-throw line in hopes they miss one or both shots. Hardin made eight-straight free throws near the end of the game.

"In those situations, you have to make free throws, and he made almost every single one we needed," Rhodarmer said. Pisgah won 57-54.

Finals against Franklin

In the conference tournament finals, the Bears drew Franklin, who hadn't lost since December 2022. Pisgah had handed the Panthers that loss.

"It was a tremendous atmosphere. The Pisgah Nation was in full force," Rhodarmer said of the finals game.

Rhodarmer said many people wrote Pisgah off in the championship because Franklin was riding such a hot streak. But it didn't phase the battle-tested Bears.

Pisgah was down by nine points once in each half but fought back each time.

"At any point in time, we could've mailed it in and said we had a good season, but the kids refused to quit trying," Rhodarmer said. "They fought, and we had some big plays where we had to have something happen."

Rhodarmer said one crucial play occurred when Moore went to the free throw line, made the first shot and then missed the second.

"Hardin got in there and tipped a rebound to Wright, who made the shot," Rhodarmer said. "We had a lot of things go our way at the end. We got rebounds that we had to have. A lot of times, when you're trying to make adjustments during a timeout, you wonder if the kids hear what you're saying. But they listened and executed exactly what we asked them to in the second half."

When the final buzzer rang, Psigah was ahead 53-49 and declared conference tournament champions.

"They were extremely excited and emotional," Rhodarmer said of his team. "It was one of those things where we had a great season, but a lot of people weren't giving us a chance against Franklin, but the guys were confident. They took it to heart to prove to everybody that we have a good basketball program here."