- Greg Billing Contributing Writer
The losses and injuries were growing for Emmanuel Christian Academy’s boys basketball team. And so was the frustration.
A promising season was on the brink of falling apart with the Lions’ record sitting at 3-9. Fans and followers figured next year was the Lions’ time to have that break out season.
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But seniors Nick Kittles, Thomas Mullins and Caleb Wellman didn’t want to wait. Instead they held a team meeting to salvage the season. And what a reclamation project it’s been. Emmanuel Christian has won seven of its last nine games, including a pair of upsets in the Division IV sectional tournament.
“At that point for us being seniors, we were thinking how do we get the team back in it? How do we get their hearts to want to play basketball again?” Mullins said. “You could see it on some of their faces in some games, we were down 20 and it was like why are we still playing? Something clicked. We lost a couple guys (to injuries) but we gained some chemistry.”
And a spot in the D-IV district championships for the first time in program history. Seventh-seeded Emmanuel Christian (10-14) plays No. 2 Russia (15-8) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the University of Dayton Arena.
“We all believed we could make it to districts,” Kittles said. “We brought them in the locker room and said what do we have to do to get to districts and what do we have to do to win some games? We just brought it together.”
The Lions opened the season with two straight wins, then lost eight of their next nine games. Among the injuries and ailments, junior back-up point guard Luke Moore missed the last 14 games with a season-ending concussion. Sophomore guard Fred Shropshire (11.4 points, 6.4 rebounds per game) missed a five-game stretch. Sophomore guard Casey Swank (7.1 points; 19 three-pointers) missed the last nine games and isn’t expected to play in the district final. Mullins missed a couple games with a knee issue. And the flu hit around the same time, too.
At times the Lions had no more than six or seven players available for games.
“We faced some additional adversity when a couple guys got hurt. Our seniors just took on this whole new role,” Emmanuel Christian coach Dan Moore said. “It was that point when our seniors said we have to take this on. It seemed like a renewed commitment that we have to be a better defensive team. That’s what it all came down to.”
Emmanuel Christian opened the sectional tournament with a 70-54 upset against No. 3 Franklin Monroe. The Lions led 35-26 entering the fourth quarter, when they outscored the Jets 35-28. Emmanuel Christian shot 34-of-46 from the free-throw line overall. Kittles was 16-of-18 from the line and scored 22 points. Junior Adonis Davis was 9-of-11 and finished with 19 points.
That upset likely grabbed No. 5 Tri-Village’s attention. Emmanuel Christian still pulled off its second upset with the 61-48 win. The Lions again put the game away with free throws, going 27-of-32 overall. Jason Channels went 10-of-11 for a season-high 15 points. Shropshire hit all eight of his free throws for 14 points. Adonis added 16 points, too.
Walking onto the court at UD Arena on Friday won’t long be forgotten by the Lions players. But the best part of the season has already happened, according to Mullins.
“Just coming together. Team camaraderie,” said Mullins of what he will remember of this season. “We came together and showed how tough we were to fight through adversity and make it to districts.”