Summit Christian Academy had never appeared in the William Jewell High School Holiday Classic before, which meant the Eagles weren’t familiar with the surroundings and traditions of the 38-year old event.
But there was one thing that wasn’t new for SCA: the level of competition.
SCA (3-5) lost two games during last week’s tournament, first to undefeated (and eventual tourney champion) Lee’s Summit West 60-44 on Dec. 28 in the Cardinal Division opening round and then to Staley 66-52 the next morning in the consolation round.
Teams like the Titans, who are the top-ranked team in Class 5, and the Falcons, another Class 5 program normally aren’t the caliber of competition the Class 3 Eagles face.
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But SCA also already has played games against De La Salle from Minneapolis, a winner of six straight Minnesota Class 3A state titles, and Iowa powerhouse Dubuque Hempstead as well as Shawnee Mission South.
So, when SCA faced off with West, coach Jacob Derritt didn’t expect his team to be intimidated — and it wasn’t.
“They’re the No. 1 team in the city,” Derritt said. “I give it to our guys; they fought tough. We don’t have who they have on their roster, nor do we care.”
SCA fought back from an early 14-4 deficit and only trailed 19-17 at the end of the first quarter. The Eagles remained within 27-22 midway through the second quarter before West closed the half with a 9-0 run.
The Titans’ run continued into the third quarter as baskets from Yor Anei and Malachi Butler pushed the lead to 47-27 midway through the period.
But when the Titans, who struggled from the perimeter most of the game, started missing shots again, it allowed the Eagles put together a 14-0 run.
With Jared Gerdes’ jumper from the key with 4 minutes, 57 seconds left the fourth quarter, SCA had cut the deficit to 48-41. Gerdes led the Eagles with 11 points and Preston Kliewer finished with 10.
SCA got as close as 50-44 before West closed out the game with a 10-0 run.
Christian Bishop scored the first eight points, three times on coast-to-coast slams.
“You’ve got to give Summit Christian a great deal of credit,” West coach Michael Schieber said. “They were not intimidated. They came out and hit shots and played hard.”
SCA also fought hard against Staley but couldn’t overcome a 14-6 third-quarter deficit. Kliewer scored 22 points and Raef Gerdes had 18 points to lead the Eagles.
Even though they left without a win, Derritt said the Eagles enjoyed their first trip to William Jewell and wouldn’t mind playing in the tournament again.
“This is a historic event,” Derritt said. “Any time you get a chance to be a part of a great tournament like this, we welcome that. I hope we can be invited back.”