Bucs Sit Atop District For First Time in a Decade

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Photo by Charlie Spungin

The boys’ varsity basketball team poses with the trophy following their District Championship victory. It is the team’s first district title since 2012, as the Bucs head into regionals as the top seed in the region

Charlie Spungin, Copy Editor

Just last year, Benjamin’s boys’ basketball team lost in the first round of districts, promptly ending their season. Now, on Feb. 11, just merely one year following the disappointing early post-season loss, the team took home the district title for the first time since 2012 with a 51-48 victory over Jupiter Christian.  

The Bucs, the 1 seed in the district, entered the District Championship following a blowout victory 84-45 against Inlet Grove in the District Semi-Finals on Wednesday night. Jupiter Christian defeated John Carroll Catholic 56-43 in the Semi-Finals to set the stage for Friday night’s action.

The Bucs had faced the Eagles just two weeks prior to the District Championship, as on Jan. 28, led by junior Gavin Aydelotte’s 19 points, Benjamin triumphed over Jupiter Christian 61-51 on their home court. This game being so close made Head Coach Brandon Arnette know that this game would be a challenge.

“You know that it’s going to be a battle no matter what. It’s two teams that really know each other. A lot of kids play on the same travel programs and have been around each other for the last four or five years. It’s really about who wants it more and who’s going to play the better basketball game. It’s who wants to come out here and really execute well,” he said prior to tip-off. 

At first, the game started slow for the Bucs, who struggled in the opening minutes against Jupiter Christian’s press. However, a 9-0 run would propel them to the lead by the end of the first quarter.

More of the gritty, defensive-focused style continued in the second quarter. Both teams played incredibly hard and tough, keeping the score to merely a 18-14 Bucs lead at halftime. Junior Darrell Sweeting led the team with nine points at halftime. The team realized that their play could certainly improve in the second half, however. 

“We’ve been moving the ball around. We’ve been getting good looks at the basket. The short end is we have to get better on the boards,” Assistant Coach Bernard Arnette said at half-time. 

The game script completely flipped following half-time with both offenses revving up. At the end of the third quarter, the Bucs had extended the lead to 34-25. Nine of the team’s 16 points in the quarter came from junior Sanjae Moncrieffe.

This prompted the Eagles to trap the ball-handler for the majority of the fourth quarter, as they needed to speed the pace of the game up and simultaneously get back into the game. It seemed like senior Mark Cueto could have put the game away with 1:02 left in the game with a tough, contested layup to extend the lead to six and a 49-43 game. However, Jupiter Christain fought back, and fifty seconds later, the game was 49-48.

The Eagles fouled Moncrieffe with 4.8 seconds remaining, where he sank both free throws to ice the game at 51-48, the game’s final score. The Eagles missed a potential game-tying three at the buzzer, prompting Benjamin’s student section to rush the court to celebrate the team’s victory. 

Cueto, Sweeting, and Moncrieffe all stepped up late in the game. Cueto scored seven of Benjamin’s 17 fourth-quarter points, while Sweeting got to the free-throw line six different times; of course, Moncrieffe ended the game with just a few seconds left on the clock. Cueto finished with 12 points, Sweeting with 13, and Moncrieffe with 14, respectively. 

After having a record below .500 in the two prior seasons, the Bucs have had a quick turnaround to becoming an elite team. For junior Leo Bryne, winning the district title is “the best feeling [he’s] had at The Benjamin School.” 

Cueto is the lone senior on the team, so being a leader for the team is something that he embraced since the season started a few months ago. He knew the implications of this game and its importance to him as well as Coach Arnette.

“I know we had to come in and fight because we beat Jupiter Christian already at their house, so I know they were coming over here to give us a dogfight. So, I led my team, kept my head down, told everybody to stay composed, do your work, do what you do best, and that’s how we won,” Cueto said.

Cueto credits Coach Arnette for the team’s ability to ramp up the offense entering the second half. According to Cueto, Coach Arnette told the team at halftime “whoever wins the third quarter is going to be whoever wins the whole game”. Sure enough, the Bucs won the quarter and the game.

Coach Arnette also believes that Cueto had a monumental impact on the result of the game, crediting both his leadership and on-court play. 

“We stuck together, thanks to my senior leadership by Mark Cueto,” Coach Arnette said about the team’s ability to play through adversity at the end of a close, high-pressure game. “He made some really big buckets down the stretch.”

The development of the team throughout the season is a key reason that the Bucs have had such a substantial turnaround this year. Coach Arnette praised Moncrieffe’s ability to make two clutch free throws at the end of the game to seal the game after being an inconsistent free throw shooter coming into the year. 

Coach Arnette, whose first season at Benjamin came in the 2016-17 season, won his first district title for the Bucs. However, he notes that this certainly is not the end of the path for the Bucs this year, as they have regionals to look forward to and hopefully a very deep postseason run. The last time that the program won a game during regionals was in the 2017-18 season; this year seems like it’s certainly the year that drought comes to an end, as the Bucs don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon and are the top seed in the region.

“The sky’s the limit for this team,” Coach Arnette believes. The Bucs’ first regional opponent is slated to be Cardinal Newman on Feb. 17 at 7:00 p.m.