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The Cornerstone Christian Academy boys' basketball team is the defending Third Region and KCAA State Champions, but this year's squad has a much different make-up than last season.
Playing a young squad this season, the Bulldogs finished the year with a modest 9-12 record. However, head coach Norris Beckley said his team is improving.
"We're a young team, but I feel like we're finally playing our best basketball of the season," Cornerstone head coach Norris Beckley said. "We're excited for a chance to defend our region title and, hopefully, we'll get a chance to defend our state title."
The Bulldogs ended the season on a high note, drilling Micah last Friday and hammering regional foe Carrollton Christian 76-37 Tuesday.
Beckley said the win over Micah was probably the team's best all-around performance of the season.
"We created a lot of turnovers with our quickness and our pressure defense," he said. "Plus, we had a size advantage in the post that we tried to exploit. And we had a very balanced scoring attack."
Patrick Maurer led the way for Cornerstone with 18 points and Charlie Freed and Jesse Benson each chipped in 10 points.
The Bulldogs showed their versatility in the win over Carrollton with three different leading scorers. Michael Lanham led the attack with 16 points, Nick Miller added 14, and James Hamilton finished with 10.
"Michael and Nick have probably been playing the best for us over the past couple of games," Beckley said. "They're coming off the bench and giving us a lot of energy and scoring, and they've started challenging guys for spots in the starting rotation. They both played excellent in the JV State Tournament, and they've carried that momentum over to the varsity squad."
The Bulldogs will face regional tournament host Community Christian in the first round tonight at 7:30. Community topped Cornerstone twice during the regular season, but Beckley said he thinks his young squad can turn the tables this time.
"I like our chances," he said. "Everybody is playing with a lot of confidence right now. We're the defending champs so we have a target on our backs, but at the same time because we've struggled some this year we're kind of coming in under the radar. Teams might be looking past us."
The key for the Bulldogs' success, Beckley said, will be the team's relentless fullcourt pressure, and transition game.
"We've got to rebound and protect the ball, but most importantly we have to create turnovers," he said. "If we do that we can force teams to hurry up with our press and turn those turnovers into chances to score in transition. We've lacked consistency in our post this year, but those guys appear to be coming around. If we can control the rebounding game, we can get out quickly, and, hopefully, convert those chances into some easy baskets."