For the third time in six seasons, the Ardrey Kell boys basketball team has advanced to the regional round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 4A state playoffs after defeating Berry on the Cardinals’ home court, 57-43, on Feb. 28. The win avenges two road losses the Knights suffered to Berry earlier this season.
The Knights (24-6) opened the game in attack mode as star junior guard Steven Santa Ana relentlessly attacked the rim, getting to the free throw line and setting the tone for Ardey Kell.
“We knew we had to play hard, be aggressive and come out and throw the first punch,” said Santa Ana, who scored a team-high 21 points and added six rebounds. “The last time we played them we got down by 11, (against Berry), but we knew we had to come out and punch first and keep going.”
Ardrey Kell did just that. After jumping out to a four-point lead at the end of the first quarter, the Knights stayed in attack mode throughout the game, earning the right to play in the Final 8 in Greensboro for the first time since the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.
“We were hungry, but we knew it would be a battle,” coach Mike Craft said. “From the opening tip until the end, it was just one of those games where we didn’t shoot it that well, but got some breaks and played with intensity.”
Markel Pollard, the lone senior on the Knights’ roster, said the intensity is something the Knights will look to keep up in Greensboro.
“This has been very special for me coming back. We all have our jobs to do – I like to bring energy to the court and have my teammates feed off of it – and it doesn’t matter who scores as long as we win.”
The Knights have won nine of 10 games, but Santa Ana said they’re just starting to play to their full potential
“Everyone is clicking,” he said. “We’re playing better than we have all year. Everyone is gelling. Coach has told us this is when we need to peak and I think we’re peaking right now, we’re hitting our free throws, knocking down shots and playing team ball – that’s the big thing.”
Ardrey Kell squared off with Lake Norman – the last team to eliminate them from the Western Regional round with a 58-56 loss in 2010, the year the Wildcats won the state championship – on March 6 after South Charlotte Weekly’s press deadline.
Lake Norman entered the game 28-1 and riding a 17-game win streak with a quartet of talented players in Krishawn Prichett (17.8 points, 8.4 rebounds per game), Hunter Seacat (17 points, nine rebounds), David Scott (12.3 points) and Nick White (10.3 points), but the Knights won’t back down from anyone.
“We have believed in ourselves all year,” Craft said. “(The kids) are excited but I heard them say that we still have work to do. It’s a cliché, but we’re going to take it one game at a
“We replaced four starters and to have those young kids come and play like this and to get a school-record for wins at 24, I’m just so proud of them and don’t want it to end.”