Wesleyan boys hang tough, repeat as champions

Feb. 23, 2014 @ 11:05 AM

The Wesleyan Christian boys took their lumps at times this season. But, in the end, those experiences helped them win their second straight NCISAA 3A state championship.

Having dealt with injuries, illnesses and a brutal schedule all year, the Trojans clicked over the last few weeks of the season that culminated in Saturday’s 53-47 overtime win against Greensboro Day in the state championship.

“Thank God we’re really talented,” Wesleyan coach Keith Gatlin said with a laugh. “JaQuel was out for two months; Harry’s been out since June; Donovan had the flu; Hunter broke his wrist; Ben had mono; Johnny came from the baseball team to give us another body.

“A lot of people misunderstood because we play a national schedule. But the reason you play a national schedule is for moments like this. … I just give all the glory to God. The way our season went, those games prepared us for this right here – no question.”

After winning the state title last year, the Trojans had high expectations this year, returning almost all of their top players – including Division I signees Theo Pinson (North Carolina), JaQuel Richmond (Houston) and Donovan Gilmore (College of Charleston).

Losing talented sophomore Harry Giles to a knee injury while with Team USA over the summer hurt. Then, losing Richmond to a hamstring injury midway through the season and Gilmore to the flu were even greater blows.

Over that two-month span from Nov. 25 to Jan. 24, as players were coming and going from the lineup, Wesleyan faced five teams ranked in the top 25 nationally by MaxPreps, losing all five plus games against state and conference rivals High Point Christian and Greensboro Day.

“We went through so much adversity, with injuries and stuff. It was tough,” said Pinson, who scored 15 points in the final and was selected all-state. “... This year helped me out a lot, from a leadership standpoint and just playing every possession. And at times having to carry the team. But when everybody got back, everyone adjusted and just stepped up.”

After losing by 12 at Greensboro Day, the Trojans, with their lineup back at full strength, won their final five regular season games – including double-digit wins against High Point Christian and Greensboro Day – to finish second in the PACIS and head into playoffs with confidence.

As the No. 2 seed in the state playoffs, they rolled past No. 7 Christ School in the quarterfinals and No. 3 High Point Christian in the semifinals before again beating top-seeded Greensboro Day, finishing regulation strong to force overtime and pulling ahead in the extra period.

“All that hard work, all the ups and downs we went through all season and to come out on top, it feels awesome,” said sophomore Michael Buckland, who played particularly well in the final two games of the tournament, scoring 12 points in the final.