The Marco crowd is happy as the home team holds the lead in the first half of Thursday's regional playoff game against Southwest Florida Christian Academy. / Scott H. Shook/Sun Times
Preston Reese is blanketed by Southwest Florida Christian Academy’s Logan Sievert. / Scott H. Shook/Sun Times
It was a different atmosphere at the Marco Island Charter Middle School gymnasium Thursday night as game time for the Marco Island Academy’s regional playoff game approached. Cars were circling the jam-packed parking lot, looking for an empty space. The overflow ended up filling the lot at Tommie Barfield Elementary School. Excitement was in the air.
With a gym full of fans, the hometown Rays did not disappoint their fan base, even though a great start eventually ended in a 60-41 loss to Southwest Florida Christian Academy of Fort Myers.
“It was a heckuva season,” head coach Roger Raymond said after the game, “getting to play in a regional was a dream come true for these kids. We played well.”
The Rays took it to Southwest Christian early, enjoying leads throughout much of the first quarter and even led 19-17 midway through the second quarter. The crowded gym was alive with excitement with the crowd exploding with every Rays success.
“It was a huge crowd,” Raymond said. “Marco supported these kids all season. We hit some shots early. When you hit shots you get ahead.”
Southwest Christian’s superior size started to make a difference as the half wore on. By halftime the Rays trailed 31-25.
“When they have three players over 6-foot 4 and one of them is 6-foot 7 and your biggest guy is 6-foot 1, they’re going to get some looks inside, there’s nothing you can do about that,” Raymond said.
Southwest Christian came out strong in the second half and the Rays went cold, missing many of the shots they hit in the first half.
“We didn’t shoot well. We had open looks. We didn’t hit ‘em,” Raymond said. “Our offense was a little subpar.”
Cole Stretton, the Rays’ sophomore captain, led all scorers with 18 points. He also had five steals, two assists and three rebounds while leading the Rays offense from his point guard position.
Peter Servente scored nine, grabbed seven rebounds and picked up three steals for Marco. Preston Reese contributed five points, seven rebounds and six block shots for the locals.
Raymond seems to be looking forward to next season already with his entire team underclassmen.
“We’ve got everybody back,” he said, “so the future is bright. It was a whale of a season.”