Evangel Christian boys cap championship season with win over East Memorial
By Tim Gayle
Chester Pruitt didn’t take the usual path to a state championship.
The Evangel Academy guard went from a backup role with the Lions to transferring to another school, from sitting out in December to earn most valuable player honors on Monday.
“I didn’t expect it,” Pruitt said. “Every day in practice, we worked real hard and we were preparing for a state championship. We took it one game at a time. You can’t just say you’re going straight to the championship without beating the team before that.”
The Lions were 2-5 without him, but finished 18-10 this season, capping their turnaround with a 53-47 win over area rival East Memorial Christian Academy to grab the AISA Class A boys basketball state title at the Multiplex on Monday afternoon.
“It was a tough decision that they left,” Evangel coach Kerwin Washington said. “They did it for family reasons. They weren’t happy where they were. He called right after he got there and said they wanted to come back.”
Pruitt was on the varsity at Evangel as a freshman, but on the junior varsity at Park Crossing as a sophomore.
“He’s an incredible young man,” Washington said. “It’s a testament to him, what happened with the bus situation. Just to have him with our program – a strong character kid, a leader – he’s not just a good basketball player but a great young man.”
The “bus situation” happened last September when Pruitt, sitting immediately behind the bus driver, noticed something was wrong when the driver had a medical incident and Pruitt saved the students on the bus from oncoming traffic.
That type of quick thinking makes the junior invaluable on the basketball court, but he had to sit out the first half of the season while awaiting the results of one grade from Park Crossing.
“It was hard,” Pruitt said.
Little did anyone know the type of impact he would have after taking over as point guard for the Lions in January.
“I didn’t know at first, until he started drawing up the plays,” Pruitt said. “He sets up the plays based on our playing style. But I didn’t know I was going to be a big impact.”
He was on Monday as well, scoring nine of his 20 points in the final quarter as the Lions rallied from a four-point deficit. Pruitt’s three-point play gave Evangel the lead for good at 44-42 and he added another basket and a free throw in a 9-1 run to help the Lions win the title. After East Memorial trimmed the deficit to a basket with 36 seconds left, his three free throws accounted for the final margin of victory.
The difference, he said, was a man-to-man defense installed the day before in practice by Washington to take away East Memorial’s perimeter shooters.
“We decided to run ‘man’ because we didn’t think they could handle the pressure,” Pruitt said. “We usually don’t run ‘man’ — this is probably the first game we’ve run ‘man’ — and we adjusted to it real well. We just ran them off the spot and made them dribble.”