Players celebrate their state championship win against Columbia High School on March 11 with the many Pace students attending the game. Photo: Fred Assaf

The boys varsity basketball team traveled to the Macon Centreplex last Thursday where they dominated Columbia High School to win the GHSA AA state championship for the second year in a row. The final score was 73-42. The team was led by six talented seniors: Logan Baker, Mathew Cleveland, Madison Durr, Justin Johnson, Cole Middleton and Josh Mininberg. The Knights achieved an impressive 28-1 record this year, ending the season on a 28-game winning streak.

Before arriving at the championship game, Pace conquered impressive opponents including 7A powerhouses Grayson High School and North Gwinnett. The Knights defeated Buckhead rival Lovett a total of three times. In the last matchup against Lovett, Pace won the Region 6 Championship by a close margin of three points, 60-57.

Cleveland, a Florida State basketball signee, was named the Region 6 Player of the Year, and Middleton and Durr, along with junior Josh Reed, were named to all-region teams as well. Head Coach Sharman White was also named the Region 6 Coach of the Year in just his second year at Pace. 

The team played a total of five playoff games in which the closest game had a 12-point margin against Thomasville in the final four. The Knights also beat Dade County and Banks County by 30 points or more and Butler by 14 on their road to Macon.

In the championship game on March 11, Pace immediately jumped out to an early lead on the Eagles, outscoring them 29-21 in the first half. However, the game was decided in the third quarter as the Knights went on a dominant run, scoring 34 points while holding their opponent to only 10. Mathew Cleveland led the team with 24 points and was named the AA state player of the year. 

This time last year, Pace got off to a slow start in the state championship game, so it was extremely important for the Knights to take control early this year. “We wanted to get off to a good start and we did,” said head coach Sharman White. “We sputtered a little bit in the end of the second quarter, but we made some adjustments at half time and they came out like strong in the third quarter and just kind of took the game over and ended the game basically in the third quarter.”

The state game took place at 2:30 p.m., so the school day ended at noon to allow students to cheer on their peers in Macon. Hundreds of students made the hour and a half drive to Macon, with many filling the three fan busses supplied by Pace while some upperclassmen drove themselves. 

“This year’s championship was different than the last because of how much experience we had in big games, which I think helped us a lot,” said Mininberg, a team captain. Captains Cleveland and Durr both had tremendous confidence in their squad this year as well. “I believe we’re the best team in the state,” Cleveland said in an interview with Stan Awtrey for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “I feel like a lot of teams didn’t want to play us,” said Durr in the same interview. 

Usually a state championship is the last game of the season and the last high school game ever for the seniors. However, the Pace boys basketball team has been one of ten teams selected to play in the Geico National Tournament. “Going into this season, we wanted to win the state championship, but we really wanted to be represented in nationals,” said Coach White. The Knights will take on Oak Hill on March 31 on ESPN3 in the first round.

In addition, HoopSeen named its Georgia Class AA All-State Team on March 16, recognizing four Pace players. First Team All-State includes Cleveland and Reed, and Durr and Middleton are honored as members of the Second Team All-State.

Points scored by Pace in the state championship: Matthew Cleveland 24, Madison Durr 15, Josh Reed 14, Josh Mininberg 6, Cole Middleton 9, Frank Caldwell 2, Matthew Aronson 1, Justin Johnson 1 and Davis Rice 1.

Top photo: Knights hold up two fingers signaling back-to-back championships. Photo: Fred Assaf

Get the discussion going! Leave a comment or reply below.