Juan Cardona can finally relax because Miami Christian has repeated as state champions.
No. 1-ranked Miami Christian used ridged man-to-man defensive pressure and held Jacksonville Impact Christian to 38 percent shooting to win the Class 2A state championship game, 59-46, on Tuesday at the RP Funding Center.
It was the Victors’ second 2A state title in two years and the program’s fifth overall.
“It was two different teams,” Miami Christian coach Cardona said. “Last year we got it achieved and this we year got it achieved, too. I can’t be prouder of these guys and, hopefully, we can do it again. Whatever happens, happens.”
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Miami Christian (25-8) won 1A state titles in 2000 and 2002, then 2A state championships in 2015 and back-to-back in 2017-18.
“I want to thank the families for believing in the program,” Cardona said. “It is about them. I told them from Day 1 it is more of you and less of me. I told them when they get to college they won’t know who they are going to play for, so you have to be ready to take on any challenge,”
For all practical purposes, Miami Christian iced the state championship when Miguel Diaz canned a three-pointer from the corner with 4:34 left in the game, pushing the lead to 21 points — the largest at the time. A minute earlier, Aaron Gedeon had slammed in his second dunk of the game to put Miami up 45-30.
Gedeon, who finished with 12 points, opened the second half with his first dunk get to Miami Christian moving, and in the closing four minutes of the third quarter, it went to strong half-court pressure. By the 2:54 mark, the Victors had widened their lead to 37-25 — their biggest of the game at that point.
“My coach told me I have to keep the intensity up for my guys,” Gedeon said.
Also for Miami Christian, Alvarez Neftali scored 12 and Jeffrey Hernandez and Marcelo Perez added 10 each.
Impact held a slight 16-14 first-quarter advantage and the first half was tight with Miami Christian playing man-to-man and Impact Christian tucked in a zone defense, producing five lead changes.
But knotted at 20-20 with 2:45 remaining in the first half, Cardona called a time out and Miami Christian responded with great ball rotation on offense, tighter defense and went on a 7-3 run to end the first half with a 27-23 lead.
“I think we were ready for the zone because if you want to coach against Miami Christian, the first thing you have to do is get [Alvarez] out of the paint,” Cardona said. “But we started finding the gaps and in the second half, they got a little desperate and started trapping. That played into our favor.”
Cardona, who has coached professionally in three different countries, said it is too early to talk about his plans for next season, whether to return to the professional ranks or seek a three-peat with Miami Christian.
“A lot of jobs are going to come open, and we will see what happens,” Cardona said. “I don’t want to take anything away from their moment; I think they earned it. Trust me, it was a hard, hard season for them. This team didn’t start out playing this way. They grew through the season.”
Impact (15-5) went 0 for 13 from three-point land through the first three quarters.
“They did a good job with their athleticism and at their guards,” Jacksonville Impact coach Christian Benjamin Jones said. “That was the big reason we didn’t make shots because of their defenders closing out on us.
“Hats off to them, but I thought they were makeable shots, and I think we would make them if we had the opportunity again.”