Wildcats capture another prize, top Trinity boys in PAC final

Eastern Randolph’s Timothy Brower goes up for a basket as Trinity’s Jacob Hodges, right, defends. Other Trinity players, left to right, Brandon Campbell, Grayson Earls, Dylan Hodges and Dominic Payne look on. (PJ Ward-Brown/Randolph Record)

RAMSEUR – Timothy Brower was down on the court in pain in the first quarter of the Piedmont Athletic Conference Tournament’s boys’ basketball championship.

The Eastern Randolph guard delivered much of the punishment for the rest of Friday night’s game.

Brower’s 28 points helped propel the regular-season champion Wildcats in a 74-64 victory against visiting Trinity that marked their first conference tournament title in seven years.

Brower said he sensed his tumble was pleasing to the opposing team’s fans.

“It kind of hit me,” he said. “That turned something on inside me.”

The Wildcats sure know how to turn it on, and even though a 17-point lead shrunk to two points in the fourth quarter they had what it took to turn away third-seeded Trinity.

It’s the winningest season in program history for Eastern Randolph (24-2).

“I knew we were going to have a good season, but I didn’t think it would be like this,” said senior guard Pierce Leonard, a transfer from Uwharrie Charter Academy.

The latest example from the Wildcats might have been fitting.

“It was how our boys persevered,” first-year coach Johnny Thomas said. “We’re not only showing people that we can be a fast team, we’re showing people that we can be a smart team. We can play half-court basketball and in the process of playing half-court basketball, we can get the job done.

“We allowed ourselves to stay positive and stay motivated. So the highlight for me is walking away with not only the (regular-season) championship, but the tournament championship.”

Eastern Randolph’s Davonte Brooks, despite not feeling well at times, racked up 20 points and Connor Carter’s 12 points came on four 3-point baskets.

“They run their system well,” Trinity coach Tim Kelly said. “They have so many different weapons. They’re the best team in our league.”

Brower, a sophomore, nearly doubled his season average of 14.9 points per game.

“I knew whoever was guarding me couldn’t guard me,” Brower said, dealing with what he described as a hyperextended knee.

“He got everywhere he wanted to get to,” Thomas said of Brower.

Despite now tripling last season’s eight-win total, this title game was far from automatic.

“We just couldn’t close out,” Kelly said of rallies that faded.

Dominic Payne racked up 25 points, Dylan Hodges had 15 of his 19 points in the first half and Brandon Campbell tallied 12 points for Trinity (20-7).

Eastern Randolph ended the first quarter on a 20-3 stretch and extended its lead to 30-13 by scoring the first five points of the second quarter. Trinity’s 14-1 run changed the game’s complexion.

The Wildcats’ 38-31 halftime edge grew again as Brower put together a stellar third quarter. Trinity ended up in the bonus early in the second half, but the Bulldogs also encountered foul trouble as Campbell and Hodges picked up their fourth fouls with more than seven minutes to play.

Still, Trinity shook off a 12-point hole, with Payne’s three-point play and his baseline jumper cutting the deficit to 59-57. The Bulldogs had a possession with a chance to tie or go ahead.

The next points came from Brooks on a putback of his own missed shot, then Brower drained a 14-foot jump before Carter’s 3 made it 66-59 with less than two minutes left.

“It felt awesome because no one thought we could do it,” Brower said.

The final score might have been closer, but Kelly didn’t want his team to back off.

“Why do that?” Kelly said. “Give yourself a chance to win.”

Leonard ended up on the PAC Tournament title-winning team for the second year in a row.

“I do what I got to do to allow us to win,” he said.

It was the first time either team had reached a conference tournament final since 2016. Eastern Randolph also won that matchup.

By Bob Sutton