Miami Christian prepared well for Orlando Central Florida Christian but now has to scramble to win another state championship.
No. 1-ranked and defending Class 2A state champion Miami Christian beat second-ranked Orlando Central Florida Christian 68-53 at the Class 2A state semifinals on Monday at RP Funding Center after countering every defensive trap by swinging the ball from side to side and producing easy layups and open three-point shots.
“We looked very passionate today,” second-year Miami Christian coach Juan Cardona said. “We forced a lot of guys to make decisions [Monday] that probably are not accustomed to making them. That was our game plan, and I think it paid off.”
Miami Christian (24-8) now faces Jacksonville Impact Christian — a 69-51 winner against Jacksonville North Florida Educational — for the 2A championship at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“I don’t have a lot of film on them. We had our assistant scouting the game before us,” said Cardona, who has previously coached professionally in Panama, Puerto Rico and Mexico. “We are going to go to the hotel and prepare and have a meeting with the team, show what they do and have a walk-through. “
The animated Cardona also received a technical foul for leaving the coaching box and was forced into the seat-belt rule during the final five minutes.
“It was my fault. I am going to check on it today and back off a little bit [Tuesday],” Cardona said. “So when I get mad, I will still be in the box.”
Miami Christian jumped out to a 25-12 first-quarter lead and then watched it dwindle to six at the half, 35-29. Central Florida trimmed it to four with less than six minutes to play in the third quarter and could never get closer, as Miami Christian finished out the final 4:40 of the quarter on a 12-4 run.
“We had to find a mix [of scoring], but mature teams will drive the ball when it counts,” Cardona said. “We saw on film they were going to trap and not a lot of guys get fouled on jump shots. The game plan was to attack from the start, but if it takes two or three extra passes to get a basket, that is what we did.”
Miami Christian senior guard Jeffrey Hernandez put the game out of reach, canning a spinning-jumper in the paint with 1:25 left, giving the Victors a 20-point lead, their largest of the game.
“I just try to find the gaps and go hard and finish,” said Hernandez, who led all scorers with 17 points.
Senior guard Jadrian Flores, who has 18 Division I offers, finished with 16 points. He was 8 of 11 from the free-throw line, though Miami Christian struggled from the line overall, hitting just 12 of 29, which did concern Cardona.
“It is something we are going to have to take a look at,” he said.
Orlando Central Florida Christian (27-4) was led by junior wing Anterrius Washington with 13 points, and Dante Treacy added nine in the loss.
Miami Christian has won four state titles, 2000 and 2002 in 1A and 2015 and last season in 2A. Central Florida Christian reached the state final once in 1997 and finished as the 1A runner-up.