Redeemer Christian makes history with school’s first district championship in basketball

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Posted February 10, 2023 | By Allen Barney
Photos By Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette

The Redeemer Christian Lions (19-8) made history on Friday night by winning their first district championship in school history with a 68-58 win over the Oak Hall Eagles (17-5).

Redeemer Head coach Dave Miller credits how the team came out ready to play as a huge factor in the win.

“We came out and set the tone in the first half. We pushed the tempo and knocked down some open shots and playing with active hands-on defense,” Miller said.

Junior forward Andrew Parker could not miss in the opening minutes as he drained three three-pointers to give Redeemer an early 9-2 lead. Oak Hall’s Andrew Powell knocked down a three from the left corner to get Oak Hall within two.

Andrew Powers joined the party for Redeemer with a three before Parker sank his fourth long-range shot of the opening quarter. Oak Hall battled back with a three as Jackson Beach hit one from the right side.

Redeemer continued their sharp-shooting ways as Beau Suarez hit a shot from beyond the arc and Powers beat the buzzer with a 28-foot three pointer to give Redeemer a 25-14 lead after one quarter of play.

Grant Phillips became the fourth different Redeemer player to knock down a three-pointer after doing so around two minutes into the second quarter. Oak Hall found some rhythm on offense as they scored on back-to-back possessions for the first time all game before Parker drilled his fifth three-pointer of the half.

Beach hit his second three-pointer but Parker answered with a contested layup to keep Redeemer’s lead at 13. The remainder of the second quarter saw Powers and Suarez score for Redeemer while Harrison Beach and Neil Ruth scored for Oak Hall.

With Redeemer up by 17 at halftime, Oak Hall turned to press defense in third quarter to get momentum back on their side. Oak Hall started the third quarter on a 5-0 run as Ryan McKinney launched a three-pointer from the right corner to bring the deficit down to 12.

Suarez hit his third three-pointer of the night to extend the lead to 16 for Redeemer Christian. Powers would add in one more with about 90 seconds left in the third quarter before Dylan Provencher made a contested layup for Oak Hall to finish out the period.

Redeemer Christian opened the final stanza with Jonah Harrelson grabbing a rebound and landing an easy left-handed layup to put his team up by 17 with seven minutes left in the game.

Oak Hall went into attack mode on both sides of the ball as Powell would answer Harrelson’s layup with a quick three from the left side. After another three-pointer from Suarez gave Redeemer a 17-point lead with six minutes left to go, Powell would follow up with two three-pointers from the top of the key sandwiched around a three from McKinney. Powell led Oak Hall with 16 points and Jackson Beach finished with 10 points.

A contested layup from Harrison Beach brought Oak Hall back to within eight points with just under four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Things got even tighter as Michael Peterson Jr and Grant Powell each made baskets to bring Redeemer’s lead down to six with 1:30 left to play.

With Oak Hall applying heavy pressure, it was important for Miller to keep his team calm and not let the lead slip away.

“I told them to take care of the basketball and finish this game. I thought our guys did a great job of responding, Jonah (Harrelson) had a couple big buckets at the end that were crucial,” Miller said.

Harrelson notched an easy layup to precede Parker and Phillips making a combined four free throws in the final minute to seal the win.

Parker’s huge first quarter and overall night of 24 points gave Redeemer Christian early momentum that they never full relinquished.

“I was feeling it and my teammates were finding the open looks and I was just knocking it down tonight,” Parker said. His 24 points and six three-pointers were both a game-high.

For Oak Hall, a historic season comes to a bittersweet end with the loss. Assistant coach David Stirt spoke with optimism about the never-say-die attitude from the players and how the future of the program looks bright.

“The idea that with two minutes left in that game and we were only down six points, shows that it was a fantastic comeback effort, and our kids did not quit,” Stirt said.

He continued: “This will go down as one of the best teams in Oak Hall basketball history. This team is the first in the last 50 years to lose less than six games in a season and finished with the third highest win percentage in school history. Next year we have eight of our 10 players and four of our five starters coming back, so we will get ready for next season,” Stirt said.

For Miller and his program, it has been a slow burn to reach this point. This season was only the fifth season of existence for Redeemer Christian basketball and now they have a district championship to its name.

“It’s huge and it’s the culmination of a lot of work. There are guys on this team who have given their heart to this program and school. For them to come back tonight and be a part of this is super special. We wouldn’t be where we are today without them setting the tone for the culture that we want. It’s not just about each individual guy, it’s about coming together as a team.

Along with Parker’s 24 points, Suarez and Powers finished with 13 points each and Harrelson ended with 10 points.

Redeemer Christian will find out their playoff matchup during the playoff selection show on Sunday at 2 p.m.

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