Cadets' senior class contributes 34 points in 66-55 win over Atlantic Shores Christian
GOOCHLAND - Benedictine coach Mark Royster said his players knew this day was coming.
They just didn't know when.
But on Friday night - after all of the uncertainty that's been brought about by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic - the Benedictine Cadets varsity basketball team finally took the floor for the program's first-ever game in the school's new state-of-the-art McMurtrie-Reynolds Pavilion.
It's now a day for the history books.
Overtaking Atlantic Shores Christian in the third quarter, the Cadets outlasted their opponents 66-55 in their season-opener on Friday to become winners for the first time in their new gymnasium.
"I think they're very happy with the fact that they got a W," Royster said, "because you don't know what's down the future."
As the pandemic persists, there's no telling if the season will continue as planned, or if it will come to an early end.
That's why Benedictine's seniors who were active for Friday night's game - Whit Williams, Cody Herman, Jackson Cray and Jeb Cray - all started, and they all contributed to the win.
Williams hit the go-ahead putback to put his team ahead for good late in the third quarter, and he reached 10 points total with a late-game dunk. Jackson knocked down three 3-pointers and netted 12 total, and Jeb shot 4 for 5 from the free-throw line and totaled 6 points.
After falling into a 7-point hole early in the third, the Cadets were sparked by their rebounding and defensive play, and consecutive buckets from Herman and a layup in the paint from Luca Puccinelli tightened the visitors' lead to 1 point with 3:04 to play in the stanza. Puccinelli's pressure on defense led to a rebound for Benedictine, and Williams put-back his teammate's missed shot down low to put his team back in the lead.
The Cadets seized control of the game when they grabbed their first 10-point lead at 47-37 in the fourth. They pulled down 20 boards in the second half compared to 10 in the first, and they limited Atlantic Shores to 20 points across the final 16 minutes.
Seven different Cadets, including Herman and Kris Tiller, scored 6 or more points, and Puccinelli led the way with 15. Hudson Williams added 9 points on three first-half 3's.
While it was a big win, it might not have been the debut the players initially envisioned. The Pavilion has the seating to create a college basketball-type atmosphere, but with current restrictions limiting crowd sizes to 25 per field for indoor sports, they had to play their first game in a nearly-empty gymnasium.
"Their mindset was: Hey, we're going to play a game in this gym eight months ago before this hit, it's going to be packed," Royster said. "They have to form their own energy, it's that simple, and that's hard to do a lot of times. You can imagine how loud it would've been in the second half if this place is crowded, and that's what they're picturing.
"I doubt this group will get it, the seniors," he said, "but you just have to work through it. Life's tough."
For Royster and the team, this game - this win - was a relief for all of them.
"It's a great relief."
Benedictine looks to come right back tomorrow and host St. John Paul the Great at 6 p.m. in the Benedictine Schools of Richmond Christmas Classic.