In his first season as head boys basketball coach at Out-of-Door Academy, Marcus Liberty won one game.
Three seasons later, his Thunder squad was playing in the Class 3A-Region 3 semifinals in search of its 20th victory and a ticket to the regional finals.
They found instead a rude wake-up call from Southwest Florida Christian Academy, which led wire-to-wire behind its blue-chip prospect, Caleb Catto, and coasted to a 79-53 win Thursday.
Catto, a junior, led all scorers with 25 points as the Kings (27-2) built a double-digit lead four minutes into the game and led by as much as 34 before calling off the dogs.
Liberty said the better team won, and having their top scorer Kolbie Ward banged up didn’t help either.
“He basically needs surgery on his right thumb. If he’s not playing, the rest of the guys don’t either,” Liberty said. “He’s the leader and didn’t have the game he normally has.”
Ward was held to 14 points, 12 in the second half when the game was out of reach. Amad Brayboy also had 14 for ODA (19-5), while Andrew Berg scored all 10 of his points in garbage time.
The Thunder were held to 18 points in the first half; only Brayboy provided any offensive spark as the Kings held a 17-point lead at halftime.
For Ward, Brayboy, Berg, and Nate Patrick, it was the end of a journey that started with them winning one game as freshmen. Slowly they improved to where they were playing deep into February, making Liberty proud and sad knowing the program will have to rebuild again.
“They had never been in this situation before, so this was a different environment. I told them they had to play smarter, tougher if they wanted to be champions,” Liberty said. “Hats off to Southwest. I like the way the play.”
Junior Jacob Tracey scored 18, while his brother, freshman Jadrian Tracey, added 15 for the Kings, a team with two freshmen in their starting lineup, who played perfect team ball and let the points fall where they may.
“The bond is tight. There was not one time this season where I had a kid ask to see the book to see how many points they scored,” SWFC coach Bill Catto said. “They could care less.”