VERO BEACH — A down year for the St. Edward’s basketball team last season was a reset button the Pirates turned into a positive in 2022-23.
Under first year head coach Antoine Jennings, the Pirates reclaimed their spot as a district champions as 21 points from Nate Sparkman and 15 from Dylan Redmon lifted St. Edward’s to a 54-47 victory over Morningside Academy Friday night in the District 13-2A title game.
Jennings was an assistant on the staff for St. Edward’s two seasons ago and helped the Pirates win their last district title and guided the team to a strong regular season that included two victories against the Eagles.
Morningside Academy was dealt a big blow as junior guard Damon Folds, who averaged 16.6 points and 9.2 assists a game was unable to play after being ejected from the Eagles’ 51-45 semifinal win on Tuesday over Merritt Island Christian but a hungry Eagle team eager to repeat as district champions did not back down on the road.
St. Edward’s held a 13-11 lead after the first quarter and after a pair of free throws early in the second quarter by Morningside Academy senior Darious Moore III tied the game at 13, the Pirates surged.
A 13-0 St. Edward’s run capped by a layup from AJ Ferguson helped the Pirates (16-5) take a 26-17 halftime advantage.
St. Edward’s maintained their cushion and got a boost from a Sparkman 3-pointer at the buzzer of the third quarter to make it a 40-28 lead going into the final eight minutes.
A push in the fourth quarter by the Eagles was spearheaded by Moore, who entered the game averaging just under 20 points a game as the guard scored five straight points to cut the lead down to 43-37 and after the teams traded baskets with a floater in the lane from Morningside’s James Bolton made it a 45-39 game with four minutes left, the Pirates pushed back.
A layup from Ford Norris and a three-point play from Redmon pushed St. Edward’s lead back out to 51-39 with 1:50 to go.
One final Eagle flurry was thrown as Moore buried a 3-pointer to make it 52-47 with 13.2 seconds left but the Pirates got the job done to advance to the state tournament.
Getting the most out of his team from the beginning of the year to now is what satisfied Jennings the most about the trajectory his kids have been on being able to trust him to put them in the right place to be successful on the court at the right time.
“The guys really bought in right away, they really believed in what we were doing,” Jennings said. “Despite beating Morningside twice this season, we knew what they were capable of and they came in with everything to gain and nothing to lose. We were disciplined down the stretch, we weathered their storm and were able to close it out in the end.”
St. Edward’s, who got nine points on the night from Gary Anderson, is likely to earn the No. 8 seed in Region 2-2A and will almost assuredly take a trip to play state power Sagemont. The Pirates will learn their fate Sunday with the FHSAA brackets being released in the afternoon.
Moore scored a game-high 22 points and Jaden Franklin added nine points for the Eagles (13-14).