Senior Cole Middleton dunks on Oak Hill. Photo: Fred Assaf

The Pace Academy boys basketball team headed down to Fort Myers, Florida at the end of March to compete in the Geico High School Nationals. It was a huge honor for the boys to be invited, as only the top 10 teams in the country are rewarded with a spot to play in this tournament. For the most part the schools who are selected are either very large schools or boarding and prep schools for basketball players, making it even crazier that a small school like Pace had a team so outstanding that they were invited.

The other schools who were invited include the blue bloods of the high school basketball world, such as Monteverde, IMG Academy and Oak Hill. Monteverde ended up the tournament champion, defeating Sunrise Christian on April 3, 62-52.

Seeded eighth, Pace was matched up against ninth seed Oak Hill, a boarding school in Virginia, in the first round on March 31. Oak Hill is traditionally a very talented team, producing NBA alumni Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo, Brandon Jennings and Jerry Stackhouse among many others. Coached by legendary head coach Steve Smith who has been with the program for 30+ years, the Warriors are a very tough, disciplined squad.

They were led by MJ Rice, who is known for his physicality. He has a large frame at 6-5, 225 lbs. and is ranked 10th in the class of 2022. The Warriors team also included several other college level players, including five-star sophomore Caleb Foster and three-star senior Camryn Carter, with four players scoring in the double digits against Pace.

Pace overall played an excellent game against this tough opponent. After a slow start in the first, going down 7 points, the Knights adjusted to the spotlight of playing in such a major game and started to heat up. Coming back from their slow start, Pace kept within 5 points for most of the game, and managed to tie the game 71-71 with 2:49 remaining in the fourth quarter. Pace outscored the Warriors in the second quarter 21-18, and both teams scored evenly 23-23 in the third. But in the end, Oak Hill outlasted the Knights, pulling ahead in the final two minutes with a final score of 84-77.

The top scorers for the Knights were senior Matthew Cleveland and junior Josh Reed. Cleveland did what he does best, taking the ball to the hole and making tough finishes. He ended the game with 30 points, eight rebounds and 3 assists. Reed had 21 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Battling on the inside against MJ Rice, senior Cole Middleton did an excellent job of guarding the glass for the Knights, grabbing eight rebounds and getting a few putbacks, scoring 16 points overall. He also had four steals. Senior Madison Durr played a terrific game being the motor of the team and facilitating the ball for the Knights on the offensive side with seven assists. Durr scored 7 points for the Knights. Seniors Justin Johnson and Josh Mininberg also fought hard against the highly competitive Oak Hill team. The Knights ended their outstanding season with a record of 28-2.

Top Photo: (L-R) Junior Josh Reed and senior Madison Durr trap the ball against Oak Hill on March 31. Photo: Fred Assaf

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