LAKELAND – The ingredients for a special season were there the whole time.
They just needed to find the right mix.
When they did, the Miami Christian boys’ basketball team began a state championship run.
What started as a tumultuous journey for the Victors ended quite smoothly Wednesday night with a 71-44 rout of Orlando Agape Christian in the Class 2A state championship game at The Lakeland Center.
Led by another balanced effort in which every player on the roster scored at least one point, Miami Christian (25-4) won its third state title and first since 2002 when the Victors’ talented lineup included players such as current Dallas Mavericks guard Jose Juan Barea.
"This is pretty crazy and these players made me look like a great coach," Miami Christian coach Andrew Moran said. "I had great players that were ready to do whatever was asked of them."
Agape Christian (25-4), making its first appearance at state, gave Miami Christian plenty of issues early on and led 25-18 with 4:44 remaining in the second quarter.
Then, the game changed dramatically.
"It was tough in the beginning against Agape because they’re a very physical team," Moran said. "We just had to buckle down and defend."
The Victors would outscore the Saints 34-4 over the next 13 minutes and 35 seconds of actual game time (over a quarter and a half). Agape Christian guard’s Andre Bennett’s three-pointer was the only field goal allowed by Miami Christian during that stretch.
"Our coaches stressed defense to us at halftime and we turned it up in the second half," Miami Christian guard Isaiah Reece said.
Reece finished with a game-high 18 points, four rebounds and three steals and Marquill Smith totaled 17 points, four rebounds and three steals.
Miami Christian forced 24 turnovers and limited Agape Christian to 29.8 percent shooting. The Victors shot 51 percent (25-for-51).
Junior forward Ralph Diaz had another double-double as he did in Tuesday’s semifinals as he finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds to help Miami Christian dominate in the paint once again.
"Isaiah really got in their top guard’s face and blocked some shots and did a great job," Moran said. "Ralph didn’t have a lot of double-doubles this year so to get two at state was huge."
Moran, a 32-year old former assistant coach at Miami High, celebrated with his wife and daughter and the team he was tabbed to coach in December – one month into the season.
Moran became the Victors’ third coach in the past 10 months. Moran took over after then-coach Sal Stewart stepped down in December. Former Hialeah Gardens coach Marcos Molina planned to coach the team originally, but chose to resign to avoid a potential recruiting violation after three of his former players had transferred to Miami Christian.
Moran brought stability to the talented group after a time as players began working better as a team and sharing the basketball better.
"I’m very proud of this team because we went through a lot but we never quit," Reece said. "We did this for the whole group and the whole ride was worth it."
AC (25-4): Stover 2, Bennett 12, Dennison 9, Hill 12, Floyd 4, Clemmence 5. MC (25-4): Diaz 16, Allen 5, Smith 17, Frye 6, Reece 18, O. Fernandez 2, Style 1, Hicks 3, A. Fernandez 1, Joseph 2. Half: MC 31-25. Three-pointers: Bennett 4, Clemmence, Smith, Reece, Hicks. Rebounds: Diaz, Hill 10. Assists: Diaz 5. Steals: Smith, Frye, Reece 3. Blocks: Allen 4.
State boys’ basketball
When: Through Saturday.
Where: The Lakeland Center, 701 W. Lime St., Lakeland.
Admission: $10 per session; Parking: $8.
Wednesday’s results – Class 4A semifinals: West Palm Beach Cardinal Newman 57, Fort Myers Dunbar 49; Tallahassee Godby 70, Melbourne Holy Trinity 56; Class 1A final: Chipley 69, Hawthorne 40; Class 2A final: Miami Christian 71, Orlando Agape Christian 44.
Thursday’s schedule – Class 3A final: Weston Sagemont vs. Jacksonville Providence, 9:30 a.m.; Class 4A final: Cardinal Newman vs. Godby, 1:05; Class 8A semifinals: Oviedo Hagerty vs. St. Petersburg, 7; Hollywood McArthur vs. Wellington, 8:30.
Friday’s schedule – Class 5A semifinals: Tallahassee Rickards vs. Tarpon Springs, 10 a.m.; Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons vs. St. Petersburg Gibbs, 11:30 a.m.; Class 6A semifinals: Gainesville vs. Orlando Edgewater, 2:30; Miami Norland vs. Tampa Jefferson, 4; Class 7A semifinals: Pompano Beach Blanche Ely vs. North Port, 7; Kissimmee Osceola vs. Oviedo, 8:30.
Saturday’s schedule – Class 5A final: 10:05 a.m.; Class 6A final: 1:35; Class 7A final: 5:05; Class 8A final: 8:35.