A small suburban Philadelphia basketball team will play the biggest game of its season Friday night.
At 6 p.m., the Saints of Gospel of Grace Christian High School, a 21-student school in Cheltenham, will take the court for the school’s first-ever state playoff game.
It won’t be an easy contest.
The Saints are set to play the Mighty Elephants of Math, Civics & Sciences Charter, a Philadelphia-based school predicted by some to win the PIAA tournament.
The squad’s seven players — four seniors and three juniors — aren’t intimidated.
“We’ve got good leadership on this team outside of me,” said senior Shaquan Turk, the team’s leading scorer. “Our point guard, he knows how to control the game and we’re really a smart team. We have a high basketball I.Q. on the team.”
Turk will be on the sidelines Friday night after suffering a concussion during the team’s district championship game last week.
Though a tough blow, head coach Mario Berrios said his team is built to rise to the occasion, noting that the team’s motto is “no regrets.”
“We tell the boys that when you get out on the court you give it your all, no matter what. Just go out there and play as hard as you can,” said Berrios, a former Gospel of Grace student who volunteers his time. “When you get home at the end of the day after a game or after practice, you’re not saying, ‘ If I would have went harder, maybe if I had played harder or hustled on defense then we could have possibly won.'”
Most of Gospel’s players grew up together. Junior point guard Eric Williams said that chemistry also makes the team a contender. He doesn’t care that others see the Saints as underdogs. In fact, he sort of hopes they do.
“They automatically look past us to their next game, thinking that’s an easy W, but we give more than that,” said Williams.
Turk agreed not being a favorite gives his team the ability to sneak up on opponents.
“It’s an advantage because then they start playing down to us and they see how good we really are and it’s too late and it’s too late — they can’t recuperate. We already won.”
Students at the school are cautiously optimistic about tonight’s matchup, including freshman Kerri Schwartz, who’s attended nearly every game as the school’s yearbook photographer.
“I’m nervous, especially because Shaquan can’t play because he has a concussion, but I’m sure that everyone will stick by them anyway, you know, pray that they’ll win,” she said.
No matter what, though, Coach Berrios said he’ll be pleased with the season, the team’s second as a PIAA-eligible team.
“This has been the craziest year, the best year that we’ve had here at Gospel of Grace and no matter what I’m proud of the boys that they made it this far,” said Berrios. “Win or lose, we’re going to give it our all and whatever happens, happens.”