Friday afternoon, the first shot that Ardrey Kell’s Steven Santa Ana took against Greensboro Page in the N.C. 4A quarterfinals gently went through the hoop. The ball spun around the nets a few times, like clothes going around the plastic wand in your washing machine.
As the shot fell, Santa Ana looked over to his head coach, Mike Craft, who cracked a smile, and to his teammates on the bench, who had stood and collectively stuck their hands above their heads like a football referee signaling a touchdown.
He knew. They knew.
This was going to be a good game.
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Santa Ana had 25 points in a 65-55 win over Greensboro Page. He scored 12 points in the fourth quarter.
He also exorcised some demons as he led Ardrey Kell to the state semifinals for the first time.
A year ago, Santa Ana had pushed Ardrey Kell to the same spot, only to suffer through a 2-for-17 shooting night and watch Lake Norman beat his Knights 45-43. Santa Ana admitted he thought about that game a little, but he was also determined to not waste a second chance to reach a regional final.
“I felt calm,” he said, “and I felt comfortable with the work I put in and how we were playing as a team. I knew we would have a good showing. And it’s a good feeling, as a shooter, to see the ball go through the hoop the first time.”
Santa Ana played free the rest of the game, driving inside to attack Page, and flicking off screens to rise up and shoot that pretty jump shot of his. Teammate Rhyle Scott (16 points) also had a big game, scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter, but make no mistake, this game belonged to Steven.
“I wasn’t about to lose this game,” he said. “I was going to do whatever we needed to do to win this game.”
Craft said he knew Santa Ana had been motivated all season by last year’s regional performance. Like his player, Craft didn’t expect a repeat
“He was huge today and he’s been motivated throughout the year,” Craft said. “If you look at all of his AAU teams, they always go to the championship. I told him he had to do that for us, too.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr