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Findlay Prep Pilots out to make amends, regain national title

Nigel Williams-Goss and other veterans in Findlay Prep’s basketball program have had about a year to mull it over.

And the more Williams-Goss thinks about the Pilots’ end to last season, the more the junior guard wants to wash the foul taste out of his mouth.

Findlay Prep suffered a 70-61 upset to Dwyer (Fla.) in the quarterfinals of last year’s ESPN RISE National High School Invitational, ending the Pilots’ bid for a third straight tournament title with a thud.

“Last year didn’t end the way we wanted it to go, so this year we’re kind of going back with a chip on our shoulder and going out there to get three victories,” Williams-Goss said.

Findlay Prep begins the eight-team ESPNHS National High School Invitational today at Georgetown Prep in North Bethesda, Md. The top-seeded Pilots (29-1) will play No. 8 seed Coolidge (30-9) of Washington, D.C., at 5 p.m. in a quarterfinal game televised on ESPNU (Cox 320).

“The returning guys going in there after 11 or 12 months of having this stew are a little anxious to get back there for redemption and eager to kind of put some closure of last year behind them,” Findlay Prep coach Michael Peck said. “I think they’re motivated by that, obviously. I am, too.”

Findlay Prep hasn’t played since a 110-81 victory over La Jolla Prep (Calif.) on Feb. 25, but Peck said the Pilots are ready after scrimmaging four times over the past month.

Findlay Prep should get a lift from the return of senior forward Anthony Bennett, who missed 19 regular-season games because of a hamstring injury that Peck said is fully healed.

Bennett and fellow senior forward Brandon Ashley are expected to join the Pilots today after playing in Wednesday’s McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago.

“I like the fact that finally after a long time, since early December, we’re 100 percent healthy,” Peck said. “Knock on wood, we’re going in with 100 percent of our crew and the fact that we’ve got some veterans and leadership internally that understand what we’re going into and how we need to approach it.”

Findlay Prep won the first two National High School Invitational titles, but missing out last year gave the Pilots a humbling trip home.

At an early-season practice last fall, Peck became animated while declaring to his team that its NHSI qualifier banner on the wall amounted to a certificate of participation.

“We’re just excited to go out there and the chance to play for a national championship,” Williams-Goss said. “All our conditioning, every day, the grind that we put in on a daily basis, this is what we do it for.”

If Findlay Prep wins today, it will meet either St. Benedict’s Prep (N.J.) or Ely (Fla.) in the semifinals at 10:30 a.m. Friday on ESPN2 (Cox 31). The title game is set for 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPN (Cox 30).

La Lumiere (Ind.), which upset Findlay Prep 67-66 on Dec. 29, is the No. 6 seed, but Peck said his players aren’t looking ahead to a possible revenge game in the championship.

“We don’t know that they’ll make it, and, shoot, there’s no guarantee that we’re going to advance,” Peck said. “We’re going to have to fight like dogs to get there.”

Contact reporter Tristan Aird at taird@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @tristanaird.

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