ORLANDO – The gym was filled to the rafters with eager fans. They were all screaming, donning their black and red, as the Santa Fe Raiders took the floor Friday night in Orlando on Feb. 21.
Their opponent: Lake Highland Preparatory School. Their mission: to win the Regional Championship in the State playoffs for boy’s basketball.
Both teams had made it to be one of the final eight clubs still alive for the state title, with Santa Fe being just one of two publics schools making it this far. Lake Highland came into the game the defending state champions in their division, and highly favored on their home court.
The starters for the Raiders were Denarius Harris, Darius Jackson, Marcus Archer, Nate Curtis and Kham Taylor. The scene was set for a classic “David vs. Goliath” matchup between the two schools.
In the Bible, David takes down the giant and is adored as the resounding hero. However, in this game, David would swing and miss. Santa Fe would play their hearts out for the full game, but it would prove to just not be their night in the end. The final score would read 74-36 in favor of Lake Highland, but there were still times when the game looked to be competitive.
To start the first quarter, four out of the first seven shots the Highlanders made were from beyond the arc, and they jumped out to a sizeable lead early. Michael Albertson accounted for three of these early treys for Lake Highland.
“We knew what they were going to do, they have tremendous shooters,” said Elliot Harris, head coach for Santa Fe. “They are a really great team.”
Another challenge for Santa Fe was their handling of Lake Highland’s full court press. From the start of the game, Raiders saw defensive pressure the entire length of the court, and it forced a lot of turnovers and bad shoots, Harris said.
“We’ve been pressed plenty of times this year, and we handled it much better all season,” Harris said. “I think we let the moment get a little too big early, and we missed some opportunities. We made poor decisions, taking bad shots instead of getting layups.”
Santa Fe fought back, but still ended the first period of play down 30-11. Lake Highland made a total of eight three-pointers in the opening quarter.
The Raiders made a mini-run to start the second quarter, but Lake Highland responded with more bombs from deep.
The first half came to a close with the Highlanders up 50-19. Things were looking tough for the Raiders, who seemed outmatched on this night.
To start the second half, Santa Fe looked to have a little bit of life still, but quickly things returned to the theme of the night, when Lake Highland continued their hot shooting. The Raiders almost kept up with the Highlanders, getting outscored by only three in the period, but still ended the third down by more than 30.
Lake Highland would finish the game with a total of 15 three-pointers, the most they made all season long.
It was a quick fourth quarter with the running clock already in action, but the boys from Santa Fe never stopped fighting.
“I am so proud of my kids,” Harris said. “We have faced some adversity this season, both on and off the court, but they never stopped believing, and it’s quite an accomplishment making it to where we have.”
The Raiders’ season would end on that February night in Orlando, though they left the gym with their chins held high.
“We didn’t play our best game tonight, and I think they know that too,” Harris said. “But these last two weeks we have really come together as a team, and we finish the year as one of the eight best teams in the state, and that is something no one can take away from us.”
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