By Jordan Kroeger, SunCost Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — The journey to a second straight state championship game for the Community Christian School is starting to look like a formality.
Only this time, the Mustangs hope to win it all.
Community Christian wrapped up the No. 1 seed in its conference Friday night, defeating Gospel Baptist 82-40. It was the school’s sixth straight win after starting the season 6-12.
Sophomore Jonathan Joyce led the way with 16 points while junior Josh Foster added 14. Freshman point guard Ethan Bray dished out 10 assists to go along with eight points.
“I didn’t think we’d beat them that bad but we played real well,” second-year coach Kurt Taylor said. “They kind of got flustered and we played really well. It’s the first game all year that I think we’ve played four good quarters of basketball.”
The season has been a learning process for the Mustangs, who lost five seniors from last year’s team that finished 21-6.
That team lost to Wade Christian in the state championship game by a single point, but it also lost a lot of leadership when key contributors Ben Sierra, Blake Via and Jacob Foster graduated.
That’s left the heavy lifting to four freshmen, two sophomores and an eighth grader. James Boutchia and Josh Foster are the only upperclassmen on the team, with Boutchia being the only senior and even he was new this season as a transfer.
Eighth-grader Brandon Hill has stepped up, averaging about 12 points and nine rebounds a game while freshman Luis Rivera has shown Taylor he can score when needed, hitting at least 18 points on occasion this season.
“This season has gone kind of like how I expected, even though I thought we’d start playing a little better earlier in the season,” Taylor said. “We have a very inexperienced team but we have a lot of young talent … the experience has taken them a while to start believing in themselves and believing in each other and that’s where I think the biggest improvement has been in the last two weeks. They’re believing in each other and really sharing the basketball and playing better defense.”
Community Christian has two more conference games this week to wrap up the regular season before facing Sunshine in a playoff game Friday. The state tournament is a week later, where Taylor expects his young squad to make some noise.
And even make it back to the state championship game.
“I’m not saying that we will (get back), but I expect to,” Taylor said. “There are teams that come in from all over the state that I’ve never seen play. I don’t know what they’re like so you’re not real sure until you get there. I’ll have a chance to see the teams and do a little scouting before we play them so I’ll at least have a chance to see what we might be going up against.
“We’ll see what happens, but I think we’re ready. Our players are getting more and more confident.”