Led by a trio of seniors, the Eagles brought home a program-defining championship.
Making their way off the court at the RP Funding Center, members of the CFCA basketball team are all smiles.
The gold medals around their necks shine under the bright lights, as they walk toward the back hallway where they’re met with a sea of green.
The hundreds of CFCA fans who had been waiting in the wings greet the team with smiles and cheers, while smartphones are held in the air to catch this magical moment.
What follows next is a parting of a sea. Senior Jordan Preaster runs into the crowd with trophy held high, as teammates quickly follow behind — handing out high-fives to fans along the way.
“This is the culmination of five years of hard work, and there are a lot of faces that come to mind — not just the tremendous young men in this room — but lots of families who have enabled us to experience this moment,” said Eagles head coach Jonathan McClintock. “My attitude is just one of thanksgiving — God’s goodness to us is remarkable.”
As the Eagles made their victory lap and celebrated, the scoreboard back in the arena still displayed the score as brightly as it did when the final buzzer had sounded: Eagles 71, North Florida Educational Institute 67. The Eagles (21-10) had done it — they had grabbed the Class 2A state basketball title.
This was the moment that McClintock and those with the program had been waiting for patiently, and it wasn’t without its challenges.
The championship game, which took place Tuesday, March 6, was just as stressful as CFCA’s 59-44 win over Crossroad Academy in the semifinal the day before.
Despite coming into the game with a 16-13 record, NFEI didn’t hold back as it kicked off the game with a quick 5-0 run. From there, it was a slugfest as CFCA worked the perimeter, while NFEI’s bigs dominated in the paint.
Though there were a lot of similarities between the two games as it relates to the first half, the biggest difference was that Preaster wasn’t riding the bench in the final due to foul trouble.
“Me being on the floor helps my teammates a lot,” Preaster said. “I need to be on the floor with my team to help us win.”
Preaster was among three Eagles — including Anterrius Washington and Bryce Street — to play all 32 minutes on Tuesday night. Preaster also led all scorers with a game-high 30 points, while picking up eight rebounds and four assists.
When you throw in Street’s 25 points and Washington’s 15 points, the scoring from the senior trio made up all but two of the Eagles’ scoring total for the night.
Even though many would think playing in a bigger arena would throw off high-school players, it was actually not the case at all, Street said.
“It’s a lot of years of practice from (being) in the backyard shooting — it pays off,” Street said. “I try not to let the arena or lights affect me, I try to just stay focused. And with good teammates and stuff, they keep me confident and tell me to keep shooting — them pushing me to keep shooting and keep that confidence, it helps a lot.”
“This is the culmination of five years of hard work, and there are a lot of faces that come to mind — not just the tremendous young men in this room — but lots of families who have enabled us to experience this moment."
— Jonathan McClintock.
A solid chunk of those points came when the Eagles needed them the most, as they would explode in the fourth quarter to push their lead to 18 with 4:12 left in the game. It also helped that the defense really stepped up at the right time.
“We just started playing defense more aggressively — trapping the ball and then they eventually started turning the ball over,” Preaster said. “And then we started pushing the ball up.”
Despite the chipping away of the lead by NFEI late in the game, it was too little too late as the final horn sounded and the Eagles rushed the court before receiving their gold medals from CFCA Athletic Director Kyle Wills.
After having spent most of the game watching nervously from the sidelines, the moment of finality that was brought by placing medals around the necks of the school’s athletes was one of absolute joy, Wills said. It was also a time of reflecting on everything the program has accomplished over the last few years.
“To see everybody slowly build these last five years with school pride and community spirit — to see it catch fire like it has, it’s been really special around here,” Wills said. “Lower-school teachers, upper-school teachers and everybody has that commonality of excitement and school spirit. It’s been really cool.”