Evangel wins Thanksgiving tournament to remain undefeated

Published 10:24 pm Tuesday, November 28, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

The Evangel Christian Lightning are now 5-0 to start the season after winning Heritage Academy’s Thanksgiving tournament with wins over Clarke Prep and rival Ezekiel on Nov. 20-21.

Their success in the tournament comes after a 57-27 season-opening win over Coosa Valley Academy, a 50-39 victory over Restoration Academy and a second win over Coosa Valley, this time at home as the Lightning won 77-33.

That gave Evangel all the momentum going into Thanksgiving week as it looked to keep its perfect start alive, and the Lightning did just that by bringing home the title.

That success comes after a lack of time together due to many players also playing on Evangel’s football team, which wrapped up its season in the national championship tournament on Monday, Nov. 13 before their first basketball game the next day.

“We haven’t had much practice this season,” Evangel coach Hagan Joiner said. “We have a few new guys in, but we are playing very unselfish basketball right now to start, and I’m hoping some practice over the next few weeks and the positive momentum from starting 5-0 can keep us going in the right direction.”

In the first-round game against Clarke Prep, Owen Bugnar led the way in the first quarter with 13 points during the opening stretch as the Lightning took a 26-6 lead into the second quarter on play.

After that, Evangel went on a 19-0 run in the second quarter by shutting out Clarke Prep across the eight-minute period, with Cade Joiner scoring six points to lead the six different second-quarter scorers for the Lightning.

Evangel cruised from there as Clarke Prep could only cut the lead by three in the fourth quarter after the Lightning won the third quarter 6-1, and they walked away with a dominant 55-14 win to advance to the title game.

The Lightning found themselves in a much tighter battle in the championship game against their perennial rivals, the Ezekiel Knights, in their first meeting of the season.

It was Ezekiel that had the early advantage in the game, with the Knights taking an 11-7 lead into the second quarter.

From there, though, Evangel erupted for a 22-point second quarter anchored by strong scoring efforts from Bugner and Zion Thompson to take a 29-20 lead into halftime.

A tightly fought third quarter went the Lightning’s way as well, and they increased their lead by three to 39-27 at the end of the period.

That helped Evangel see out the win as it scored 16 points in the final quarter to take the 55-37 victory and the tournament championship with it.

The Lightning are in the midst of a nine-day break without games, and coach Joiner hopes that the extra rest allows them to bond in practice and improve as a team before they look to keep their undefeated season going against Restoration Academy on Friday, Dec. 1 in the start of a three-game road stretch.