Academy enjoys early lead before bowing to Sarasota in regionals
Rays move ball down the court against Sarasota.

The largest crowd to witness a Marco Island Academy basketball game was treated to an early lead by the home team, but in the end, Sarasota Christian was just too good for the scrappy academy team Thursday night, beating the locals 80-52.

Christian, who held a substantial size advantage over the Rays, jumped out to 9-2 lead before the Rays settled down.

Preston Reese hit a three from deep in the corner and Cole Stretton stole the ball and turned it into a lay-up to give the Rays a 12-11 lead with 7:40 left in the second quarter. Moments later Stretton again stole the ball and was clobbered while attempting a lay-up and Tyler Gresham was brought in to shoot his free throws. Gresham hit one of the two free throws and the Rays led 15-13. Suddenly it was Christian who looked rattled.

But the visitors regained their composure and outscored the academy 19-2 for the rest of the half. The Rays were playing catch-up the rest of the way.

Despite the lopsided loss, academy coach Roger Raymond couldn't be prouder of his team, who fought gamely to the very end.

"They gave 100 percent effort. They were fried at the end. They didn't have anything left," Raymond said.

He recognized the strength of his opponents.

"They were big, quick and athletic," Raymond said. "They're a good team. It was a good game. Our kids busted their tails. They worked hard all week in practice and it showed."

Peter Servente led the academy with 18 points. Stretton, who earlier in the week was named Southwest Florida 2A player of the year, put together an effort that is typical of his hustling style of play. Though being held to 13 points, eight below his season average, he was effective with seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals.

Reese, one of the Rays three seniors who were playing their final games, turned in one of his finest performances. Reese scored nine points and led the Rays with nine rebounds. Servente and Connor Schmidt are the Rays other seniors.

"Those guys made our program what it is today," Raymond said. "Next year we'll come back even stronger. We're about to become a real good program. We were 16-7, a school record. I'm happy being a 28-point loser tonight. That's a good team we just played."

Cole Stretton faces down Sarasota Christian’s Blake Morrow after stealing the ball and driving to the basket. The Rays fell 80-52 in their regional playoff game.