The course of Pusch Ridge Christian Academy’s second-round playoff clash with Blue Ridge High School swung on a pair of technical fouls in the final quarter.
Saturday’s contest, which the fifth-seeded Lions (24-4) won over the 12th-seed Yellow Jackets in the 3A tournament, was a back-and-forth affair for much of the night before Pusch Ridge pulled away with the win.
The Lions entered the game’s final quarter with a 47-41 edge thanks to junior guard Mike McCone, who scored 10 points off the bench.
The star of the final quarter was senior guard Jared Clark, who battled through early foul trouble to score 12 of his 14 points in the final eight minutes, including hitting 8-of-10 from the free throw line.
Clark and McCone were joined in double figures by teammates Josiah Noller and Lucas Elliott, who scored 14 points apiece in the victory.
Elliott led the team in rebounding, pulling down 15 boards, while Noller finished with 10 rebounds.
Clark’s most significant contributions came in the fourth quarter when he hit three-of-four from the line after two Blue Ridge players were called for technical fouls.
Those points allowed Pusch Ridge to pull away from a pesky Blue Ridge team that trimmed the deficit to a single point multiple times down the stretch.
Clark said the Lions’ ability to fight through adversity to beat the Yellow Jackets stems from coach Erik Michaud and his staff’s ability to teach the squad to remain calm when the going gets tough.
“Our coaches have really instilled in us to have maturity as basketball players, to try to stay as even keeled as we can, not ride the highs or the lows, just to try and stay as even keeled as we can,” Clark said. “There’s going to be runs, it’s basketball, but just try and keep level headed this whole time and I think that really just showed in that fourth quarter.”
Michaud praised his team for their ability to battle through adversity to defeat the Yellow Jackets Saturday.
“It was just awesome that we played as a team,” Michaud said. “I mean we had people step up that aren’t normally our go-to people.”
Saturday’s multifaceted offensive attack proved to Michaud that the Lions have the right mixture of skill and on-court camaraderie to succeed on the sport’s biggest stage. The first-year PRCA coach was thrilled that his players were able to fight through early nerves to knock off a talented Blue Ridge squad that never quit.
“It was just really cool to know that when they’re double- and triple-teaming Lucas and he’s not getting all his looks and Clark gets fouled out early that we can rely on other people,” Michaud said. “We’re a team. We win or lose it as a team and tonight we got a win as a team.”
Clark touched on a similar narrative in his postgame remarks, praising the way his teammates fought when he was forced to sit out much of the third quarter after picking up a third personal foul in the half’s early minutes.
“They’re a very good team,” Clark said. “We thought we had probably the toughest second-round matchup playing them. So to come out here and play as well as we did is huge, and for the school to have some success in the playoffs after a very long time, it’s just huge for everyone.”
Clark and his teammates played Winslow High School in Tuesday’s 3A quarterfinal round at the Findlay Toyota Center in Prescott Valley after deadline.
The senior guard, who leads the team in scoring, with 19 points per game to his name this season, thinks the team is ready for whatever awaits them in the postseason.
His steadfast confidence comes from the team’s ability to knock off the Yellow Jackets on Saturday, despite Clark being a relative nonfactor offensively for the first 24 minutes of game action.
Clark said he’s proud of the way his brethren punched their way off the ropes, forcing their opponents to lose their cool and the game in the process. He believes the best is yet to come for the squad, with Tuesday’s clash against the Bulldogs serving as the first litmus test for the team.
“I think [our win’s] on my teammates just keeping us going strong,” Clark said. “We had a lead before I came in the game. It’s not like I won the game for us. I was just the guy they were fouling really. They could have fouled anybody else on the team and they would have done the same thing as me, so this is just a great team win.”