Pinnacle boys basketball catching fire
One week ago, the Pinnacle boys basketball team was 11-6 as it prepared for a stretch of five games in six days.
This was a group which made the Division I state semifinals last year and returned Dorian Pickens and Drew Bender, so the high expectations put on it in the preseason had not been met.
With the grueling schedule doing it no favors, this looked like a potentially ominous portion of the schedule for the Pioneers.
Pinnacle wrapped it up on Tuesday with an 18-point win over Horizon, finishing 5-0 over that span. It included a 67-62 victory over No. 1 Desert Mountain at the MLK Basketball Classic on Monday, again pushing the Pioneers into the upper echelon of challengers for the state title.
Pinnacle has jumped up to No. 9 in the power rankings, one spot away from securing a first-round bye.
“We had some tough losses earlier in the season, but this shows everybody that we’re finally coming around,” Pickens said after the win over the Wolves.
Pinnacle not only had Pickens and Bender last year, but Division I-bound forward Cody McDavis and an underrated backcourt of Chris Klima and Kevin Bowman. The Pioneers were one of the most balanced teams in the state, and if they hadn’t been upset in the semis by Laveen Cesar Chavez, this was a group that could have given Corona del Sol a tough test for the championship.
Pickens (17.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.5 steals) and Bender (15.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists) have been their usual selves thus far, but the team’s fortunes can generally be traced to point guard Trey Ingram. He is the third scoring option on the team, and when he plays well, it makes Pinnacle much tougher to stop.
“It’s another threat on the court,” Pickens said. “When he has it going, then you’ve got to stop him, you’ve got to stop me and you’ve got to stop Drew. It opens up the offense for the whole team.”
Ingram led the team with 25 points in the win over Desert Mountain. Pickens said the Pioneers have started to figure out how to attack teams when they focus a lot of defensive energy on him and Bender.
“They try to stop me and Drew, a lot of face-guarding, stuff like that,” Pickens said. “But our teammates have picked it up. It’s helped us in the long run.”
Friday’s home game against Sandra Day O’Connor will be about much more than just basketball.
Team manager Brandon Wechsler is bound to a wheelchair because of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a degenerative disease which weakens the leg muscles and progresses up the body. The average life-span of those affected is only 25 years.
Although Wechsler cannot walk or lift his arms, that won’t stop him from taking the court in an organized game one time in his high school career. Wechsler will be in Pinnacle’s starting lineup and will set a screen for Bender, his closest friend, after tip-off.
Wechsler has been the team’s manager since he was a freshman, and is a familiar sight giving fist-bumps to the Pioneers players before and after games.
On this night, they’ll be giving them to him.