Any hoops aficionado will tell you, “basketball is a game of runs”.
Teams have to make and withstand runs – Doral Academy did both Thursday night, making an early run; withstanding a third-quarter spurt from visiting Carol City; and responding with another run to secure a 51-45 victory over the Chiefs in the region 4-7A quarterfinals.
The Firebirds, who have knocked out Carol City in the opening round of the playoffs for the second straight season, will face Miami Norland next Tuesday in the regional semifinals. Doral Academy lost to the Vikings in the regional semifinals in 2017.
After Doral Academy (28-2) took a 23-17 lead into halftime – thanks to a 10-0 second-quarter run – Carol City went on a run of its own, scoring 10 unanswered points to take a 27-23 lead midway through the third quarter.
Doral Academy snatched the momentum right back from the Chiefs, however, closing the third quarter on a 10-2 run – sparked by senior guards Jonathan Nunez and Reggie Perez.
That third-quarter push, coupled with clutch shooting from the free throw line by the Firebirds was enough for Doral to stave off Carol City through the fourth quarter.
Firebirds head coach Jorge Fernandez said he knew Carol City, which reportedly had to forfeit nine regular season games due to playing an ineligible player, wasn’t going to stay down for the count after falling behind early.
“I knew [Carol City] was going to come back…they have a lot of heart and I know what kind of team they have,” Fernandez said. “But I told our team that we would face some adversity tonight. But I was happy with how they responded and took back the lead.”
“We knew this was going to be a tough game…but this time of year, they are all tough games,” Fernandez added.
Doral Academy got off to its strong start thanks to the hot shooting of senior forward Miguel Ayesa. Ayesa knocked down 4-of-6 first-half three-pointers – powering that second-quarter run – and scored 14 of his team-high 20 points in the first two quarters.
While Ayesa lost some of his touch in the second half – going 0-for-6 from the three-point line – Nunez and Perez picked up the slack. Nunez was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field and 5-of-8 from the free throw line to finish with 16 points. Nunez knocked down a critical three-pointer, grabbed five of his team-high six rebounds, and sank four free throws to finish with 11 points.
Kobbie Perez, Reggie’s twin brother, had a “floor game” – finishing with a game-high five assists, two steals, four rebounds, and four points.
“Ayesa and Nunez have been our leaders all year,” Fernandez said. “They are all tough kids, we coach them hard and they stepped up.”
Carol City had one player step up. Senior guard Marlon Smith poured in 22 points (8 of 14 from the field) and eight rebounds – both game highs. Smith was the only Chief to score in double figures for the Chiefs, however; Jevon Leidler added seven – all in the second half – while Deondre Pinkney and Zacquan Wilson each scored six.
While Doral Academy is more than happy with its victory, Coach Fernandez has to be concerned with the fact that his team was out-rebounded 21-12 Thursday – especially with a matchup against Norland’s 6-foot-9 center Reece Wilkinson looming.
“It worries me,” Fernandez said. “We do emphasize rebounding…believe it or not we’ve been pretty good rebounding the ball this year. We’re a small team, so we have to do all the little things right when it comes to hitting the boards.”
Region 4-7A Quarterfinals: Doral Academy 51, Carol City 45 – CC: Smith 22, Leidler 7, Pinkney 6, Z. Wilson 6, A. Wilson 2, Palms 2. DA (28-2): Ayesa 20, Nunez 16, R. Perez 11, K. Perez 4. Halftime: DA 23-17. Three-pointers: Ayesa 4, Nunez 2, R. Perez, Smith. Fouled Out: Z. Wilson, K. Perez. Rebounds: R. Perez 6. Assists: K. Perez 6. Steals: R. Perez 3.