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Christmas came early for a basketball team that worked extremely hard Friday to capture a 2013 holiday tournament trophy.

The Heritage Christian Academy boys basketball team, led by first-year head coach Chad Evans, entered the Grace Christian Academy Christmas Classic on Thursday looking to take the trophy to back Prince George’s County.

And the Mighty Eagles did just that after a resounding second half to win, 89-69, and a little gift when Grace Christian 6-foot-5 junior forward Terrell Brown fouled out with seven minutes remaining in the game.

Brown finished with eight points on the night but had been a big presence on the boards for the Knights.

The two teams were tied at 23 after the first quarter, and Grace took the 36-31 lead at halftime, but Heritage started to widen the gap in the third quarter, outscoring the Knights 33-18 to take a 10-point lead going into the final quarter of play, and they cruised past Grace in the fourth quarter as the tournament hosts got into some foul trouble.

Heritage defeated King’s Christian Academy, 78-27, on Thursday to advance to the championship round, while Grace defeated Southern Maryland Christian Academy, 61-48, to advance.

Evans said he’s trying to change the culture of the school this year in his first season. His team is now 4-5 overall.

“They kept playing hard. Even though they went down early in the first half, they never gave up,” Evans said. “They came out strong in the second half and never let up. I’m definitely happy with Sean [Carter]. That’s my go-to guy. They [Grace] was evenly matched with us, I’ll give them that, and Jordan White gave it every bit that he could to keep them in it. He gave every bit of 41 points.”

Carter was joined by teammates Jared Harrington, who scored 26 points, and Jordan Savage added 23 points and five assists. CJ Greenfield led the Mighty Eagles in rebounds with six.

Carter was dependable in the victory, finishing with 19 points. The Knights mistakenly left the senior open on the wing for key momentum shifters.

Carter, with his championship medal around his neck, said he really enjoyed his first experience in the tournament.

“I hope we get to come back next year to play in it,” Carter said. “I really just try to do everything I can for my team and to make the right decisions because I know they look to me to lead them out there on the floor. I feel they do look to me for that big shot, and I need to be there to make that and lead our team to victory.”

Carter said he definitely wants to play basketball in college and continue to play at a high caliber.

“They [Grace] were good competition,” Carter said. “It’s always good to play somebody that’s going to bring out the best in you and make you better.”

Grace head coach Brian Deschaine was disappointed when Brown fouled out and said Heritage had the depth it needed to sustain them, along with the 13 players on the roster that make up their seniors and juniors alone.

“We didn’t have the depth that they had,” Deschaine said, “and when he [Brown] came out, we had to go with our next guy who is 5-foot-10, Kevin Smith. We also have another kid that plays post for us, but he’s injured today. Their depth made a big difference.”

White, Grace Christian’s sophomore guard, scored a career-high 41 points in the contest and was announced as the All-Tournament player. White almost was perfect at the free-throw line, going 13 for 14.

“I’m really proud of my team. We executed,” White said. “The only thing that messed us up at the end was when we got tired and our biggest guy fouling out, that was big. Our first seven players that came out on the floor were evenly matched with them. Coach wants us to keep working hard, and not to give up on any plays and to fight, even if we’re losing. They were good competition. They were big, strong and didn’t give up, and they fought until the end.”

Senior forward Preston Saunders finished in double-digits with 10 points.

King’s Christian wins girls title

The girls championship game belonged to the now 5-0 undefeated King’s Christian squad, headed by Roy Hinkle. The Eagles controlled the tempo of the game and never looked back once they got a comfortable lead in a 36-13 win against Perry Street Prep of Washington, D.C.

King’s led 10-7 after the first quarter and 18-9 at halftime, then pulled away in the third quarter for the win by outscoring Perry Street 12-3 in the third quarter.

“This is our first time winning the tournament,” Hinkle said. “We have some tough games coming up, but I really feel like this is a special team, a special year for us with our four seniors. Those girls are really hungry for success.”

Rebekah Nevala finished with a season-high 22 points for the Eagles and was awarded the All-tournament team player.

Nevala had 20 points by the end of the third quarter alone. King’s sophomore Rachel Dooley finished with 12 points and four rebounds. Junior Hannah Miller added two points. Senior point guard Torie Benefield finished with the team-high seven rebounds, eight steals and four assists.

“We knew a little bit about the team coming into this game was that it would be a physical game, a lot of pushing and shoving,” Hinkle said, “and we just wanted to focus on getting the rebounds in this game. I didn’t want us to put up a shot and not get another chance. That was the one area that I was really focusing on, and I figured we could run. I wanted us to push up the court as quick as we could and get the best chance at a shot as we could.”

Nevala said her team is perfecting the skill of moving the ball around the court moreso this year.

“It feels really good to win this [award],” Nevala said. “Our main goal is to win the league [King’s plays in the Maryland Independent Schools Athletic League], but we’re taking it one game at a time, and hopefully we’ll get there. We’re definitely also learning to be more of a defensive team. We were ready for a physical game, and we were bracing it.”

tshowalter@somdnews.com

Grace Christian Academy Christmas Classic tournament teams

Boys

All-Tournament Player

Jordan White, Grace Christian Academy

All-Tournament team

Tre Robinson, Grace Christian Academy

Jordan White, Grace Christian Academy

Matt Collins, Heritage Christian Academy

Sean Carter, Heritage Christian Academy

Jared Harrington, Heritage Christian Academy

Girls

All-Tournament Player

Rebekah Nevala, King’s Christian Academy

All-Tournament team

Jakia Tyree, Perry Street Prep (D.C.)

Meghan Miller, King’s Christian Academy

Kelly Bruce, Grace Christian Academy

Rebekah Nevala, King’s Christian Academy

Torie Benefield, King’s Christian Academy

Basketball box scores

Boys

Heritage Christian 89, Grace Christian 69

Heritage 23 8 33 25

Grace 23 13 18 15

Heritage: J. Harrington 26, Savage 23, Carter 19, Clemons 7, Greenfield 4, Brown 4, Fleming 4, Collins 2

Grace: White 41, Saunders 10, Brown 8, Roberson 4, Smith 4, Sullivan 2

Free throws: Heritage 14-20 (Carter 3-6, J. Harrington 5-7, Clemons 2-2, Fleming 2-3); Grace 17-20 (White 13-14, Saunders 4-4)

3-point goals: Heritage 3 (J. Harrington, Clemons, Savage); Grace 4 (White 4)

Girls

King’s Christian 36, Perry Street Prep (D.C.) 13

Perry Street 7 2 3 1

King’s 10 8 12 6

Perry Street: Wright 8, Tyree 3, Lyles 2

King’s: Navala 22, Dooley 12, H. Miller 2

Free throws: Perry Street 3-6 (Tyree 3-4); King’s 6-11 (Naval 4-5, Dooley 2-4)

3-point goals: Perry Street 2 (Wright 2)