Zander Cheek of Providence Grove goes to the basket during a PAC game earlier this month at Trinity.
CLIMAX – As the season approached, Providence Grove boys’ basketball coach Wes Luther wasn’t sure if his team was of championship caliber.
“On Nov. 1, we would have been happy with a top-three finish,” Luther said of the Piedmont Athletic Conference.
The Patriots sure were happy Thursday night, but it was because of an historic reason.
They’re conference champions.
It’s the school’s first outright league title in boys’ basketball, secured with a 63-49 victory against visiting Wheatmore.
“It’s such a great feeling finally getting one,” said senior guard Luke Thomas, a multi-sport standout.
Thomas had been part of a conference championship as a freshman in baseball. So this was a special occasion, not to mention the clincher came on Senior Night.
“That team bond is right there,” said Michael Fee, another senior.
Providence Grove might tend to operate a bit under the radar. The publicity doesn’t flow naturally toward the Patriots.
“Having this finally gets us some,” Thomas said. “I feel like we’re so overlooked and underrated. Even this season, we had a great season. … We like it here. We feed off that.”
The core of seniors Fee, Thomas and Zane Caudle provided the foundation for Luther, who’s in his third season with the Patriots. Fee and Thomas have been there all along.
“They’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly,” Luther said. “Now they’ve seen the great.”
Caudle, a guard who attended middle school in the Providence Grove district, had been playing for Uwharrie Charter Academy in high school. He opted for his senior season closer to home.
“We play together,” Caudle said. “After the first game, I sensed that we were going to be pretty good. We all went after that (championship).”
Providence Grove shared a regular-season title in 2009-10 when Jim Young was coach. This championship belongs solely to the Patriots (17-7, 10-2 PAC), who’ll be the top seed for the PAC Tournament.
“Their team chemistry has been through the roof,” Luther said.
The Patriots had a rotation that went nine players deep during a majority of the game.
“We play so much as a team. I had zero points and we won by almost 20,” Thomas said. “You just do your individual jobs. We got Zane and Mike on our team, you’re going to be fine. I promise.”
The title margin was a one-game edge on Trinity. The Patriots won their last three games to secure the title.
“It was great to be able to control our own destiny,” Luther said. “We just had to win.”
Providence Grove, which has won five of its past six games, has posted comebacks and fantastic finishes at times.
“We’re trying to get out of that habit of playing from behind,” Fee said.
Against Wheatmore, the Patriots appeared on a mission, building a 19-8 lead after one quarter and extending that to 36-16 by halftime.
But the gap shrunk to 41-33 late in the third quarter. That’s when Chase Whitaker got rolling, scoring seven of Providence Grove’s next nine points as the spread went to 50-35.
The three seniors were out of the game when the final buzzer sounded, then embracing Luther in a group hug.
Fee and Caudle both racked up 17 points and Whitaker finished with 13. Fee pulled in 12 rebounds.
Jagur Williams posted 14 points and Kaleb Lockwood had 11 points for Wheatmore (8-12, 3-8).