BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Pine Bluff’s 67-51 win over Lake Hamilton in the Class 5A championship game last Thursday was about more than just winning a state title.
It was brought with it a bit of healing for a team and community that had to deal with the recent loss of two high school students to violence – one from Pine Bluff and another from Dollarway.
“I tell you it feels great (to win) and it’s been a long grind for us, a real long grind for us and a real emotional week for us because we lost some of our young people in a tragedy in Pine Bluff,” Zebras head coach Billy Dixon said. “It’s been a long week for us.
“I was concerned about the guys. The last two days at school were not good for us at all because it was just an emotional wreck.
“It’s been tough for us, but it is time to celebrate.”
It was the school’s 14th state championship and first since 2015, but Dixon was cognizant of the message that might arise from too much fanfare leading up to the game.
“The community and the support we had was great and they asked ‘could we have a pep rally?’ And I was ‘no’. They said “can we do this?’ And I was like ‘No.’
“So they came to me the other day and said ‘Coach, c’mon and let us do something for the kids.’ I said ‘I’ll tell you what you can do – give us a parade when we come back.’ So that’s what we are doing.’”
X’Zaevion Barnett, who tore his anterior cruciate in a state tournament quarterfinal last season and missed the entire football season, led Pine Bluff (25-7) with 19 points in the championship game.
Tournament MVP Courtney Crutchfield had 16 and Jordan Harris 13 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks as Pine Bluff to beat Lake Hamilton for the third time this season in as many games this season.
Crutchfield is an elite 2024 football wide receiver prospect with offers from Arkansas, LSU, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Oklahoma and numerous others.
The Zebras used their inside strength to shoot 58.7 percent (27 of 46) from the field while limiting to 33.3 percent (18 of 54),including just 4 of 22 from 3-point range.
“We always make the adjustment,” Dixon said. “If you look back, the second half has always been the best basketball that we have played. That’s because these guys are experienced guys and their veterans.
“And how we bring the program along in terms of paying attention to what the other team does, what the adjustments need to be at that particular moment.
Pine Bluff led 26-18 at halftime, moved that advantage to 43-31 by the end of the third quarter and pushed it to 53-34 midway throw midway through the fourth stanza.
“We say we have to win the first three minutes of the second quarter and you have to keep pushing it away and that’s what we did,” Dixon said.
Photo courtesy of Pine Bluff athletics