The Pusch Ridge Christian Academy Lions’ boys basketball team delivered a message to the rest of the state Thursday evening in the form of a 32-minute tour de force against rival Sabino to improve to 14-2 for the season. They beat the Sabercats, 69-57.
The Lions delivered the knockout punch in the game’s final quarter, when senior guard Jared Clark buried all eight of his free throws to give the team a comfortable lead.
Clark, who scored a game-high 31 points for the Lions, torched Sabino’s foul-laden defense, hitting four three-pointers, while pulling down nine rebounds in the victory.
His exploits, in combination with fellow senior Lucas Elliott’s dominating interior offense, allowed the Lions to take control of the game, handing the Sabercats (13-2) a second-consecutive loss.
Clark said Thursday’s win is further proof that this year’s team is something special, and has an eye on dominating their competition.
“We've had trouble beating teams like this in the past, we're just trying to turn around this program,” Clark said. “We're just having a much better season than we've had in past years, and a win like this is just a statement to show people, ‘Hey, we're here, we're legit, we're not the same Pusch Ridge we have been.’”
The team’s success this season is a result of coach Erik Michaud’s up-tempo offense, which allows players like Clark and Elliott to move quickly and use their athleticism to thwart opposing defenses.
The key to the Lions’ success, according to Michaud, rests with their ability to thrive as a whole on the court, doing the little things right when it matters most.
“We just put a plan together, but they executive it,” Michaud said. “They play as a family and it just shows all the hard work, we're putting in is starting to pay off, so it's a good look.”
That plan was put to the test early, when the Sabercats were able to use their full-court press to fluster the Lions, taking a 19-15 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Michaud said his team’s ability to overcome their early offensive struggles speaks to their resiliency, and their ability to do the little things right when the pressure is highest.
“That just shows the tenacity that they've overcome from last year,” he said. “They would've folded last year. They’ve got some grit. They got a little bit of heart behind them and they play as a family.”
Elliott, who overcame early foul trouble to finish with 14 points and 10 rebounds, said the team’s success this season is a result of their on-court camaraderie.
“From sixth or seventh grade, we wanted this more than anything, being one of the best teams in the state in 3A,” Elliott said. “So, I think with that in mind we played that game and I think we can accomplish anything.”
Michaud lauded the exploits of his two senior starters postgame, pinning much of the team’s success on their resolve to carry the team to victory.
“Jared Clark's our leader on and off the court; we can always rely on him and trust him,” Michaud said. “And Lucas, man, when he gets going, he's unstoppable, so to have two senior forces like that, it's a blessing for sure.”
Both Clark and Elliott took a few minutes after the final buzzer to soak in the buzz that reverberated through the wood-and-cement-enclosed gymnasium. Both mentioned how much it meant to have a packed house, with students and parents alike cheering the home side to victory.
Clark thanked everyone who cheered his side on, calling the crowd one of the best he’s seen in his four years at the school.
“We’re a small school, we know everybody in this gym and it's just great to have people out,” Clark said. “People are just really excited about the team and it's great. I wouldn't want to play in front of anybody else in the whole world.”