Final stretch: Patriots basketball heating up at the right time

Published 6:17 pm Friday, January 24, 2020

Ever since the calendar flipped to 2020, the Pike Liberal Arts varsity girls and boys basketball teams have a combined record of 15-1. With the start of the postseason looming, both teams find themselves in favorable positions to make a deep run.

The Lady Patriots secured the area championship with their win over Northside on Thursday night, while the boys have a chance to do the same with a win next week over Macon-East.

Building the basketball program into a popular and successful one has been a goal for both coaches this season. The current success of the two teams has resulted in fun nights inside the Patriot Oven.

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“I think Brandon (Matthews) has done an outstanding job,” said boys head coach Allen Ponder. “The girls are fun to watch and they work very hard. They are getting everything they deserve and have earned. I think the biggest thing is we are building consistency, not only with the girls program, but for the boy’s program. The big word is program. We don’t just want to have good seasons every now and then, we want to have a program with high expectations every year.”

Both Matthews and Allen are competitive coaches, but in the end, win or lose, they want to see the program continue to grow.

“We want Pike Lib athletics to be elite in everything we do,” Matthews said. “That includes basketball. It’s good for the girls program when the boys are winning and it’s good for the boys program when the girls are winning. We want to be an elite basketball school and we work together and feed off each other.”

The Lady Patriots haven’t lost since the 2020 portion of the schedule began. They are enjoying an 11-game winning streak and are 17-7 on the season.

“We have enjoyed some success,” Matthew said. “Our players work really hard and they are committed to what we are trying to do. I look at our streak and I think we have out-toughed some people. I think we are tougher in terms of conditioning and mentally speaking. I think that has pushed us over in many games.”

The Patriot boys are 7-1 in their stretch of games since 2020 began.

Although both teams are enjoying some current success, the season got off to a bit of a rocky start for both teams. Both teams struggled to get over the .500 mark throughout the first half of the season. Ponder credits that to a strong early schedule, while Matthews believes his team needed time to get acclimated to the new system.

“We played an extremely tough schedule to start the year,” Ponder said. “We do that on purpose. I love to see where my boys stack up every year. We took our bumps and lost quite a few games early, but I think we are better for it now.”

“They are getting more comfortable,” Matthew said. “Obviously the more games you play, they’re more comfortable with the system that we run. It took some time to get used to and buy into the culture we are trying to create. I had to redo some things too to adapt to them and their strengths.”

Matthews was also quick to give credit to coach Ponder and his guidance this season.

“I always have to mention coach Ponder and his help in terms of strategy,” Matthews said. “We have a good relationship.”

Both teams have plenty to play for. With the Lady Patriots winning the area championship, they have secured a bye in the state tournament. Until then, they are focusing on getting better each and every day.

“The greatest threat to your success is your success,” Matthews said. “Whenever you start enjoying success, a lot of times you forget about all the hard work you put in. My primary function as a coach is to create an environment where we are always pursuing excellence every day.”
The varsity boys team still has a chance to earn the same thing with a win over the Knights next week.

“It’s big,” Ponder said. “Macon East is a quality opponent. They’re big, fast and athletic. We know we’re going to have our hands full.”

The Patriots made it all the way to the state semifinals a season ago. Although key members are no longer on the team, the Patriots still have plenty of experience back from last season’s team.

“We have guys that have been there and we have guys that want to get back,” Ponder said. “When you have guys that have been there, then they can bring the young guys along and get them to understand what it takes to get there.”