LOGANVILLE - Trinity Prep is a relatively new player on the sports scene in Walton County, but the Lions who compete in the Georgia Association of Parochial and Prep Schools, took home a basketball championship in late February by winning the GAPPS Division II title.
Trinity Prep defeated Excel Christian Academy of Cartersville 89-83 in overtime in the championship game. They reached the finals by beating Unity Christian of Rome 84-63.
The Lions are coached by Keith Cline and assisted by Q. Tuggle and Darian Wilson. All have full-time jobs in the Loganville area, and are non-paid volunteers for the small prep school in Loganville.
Cline, in fact, has worked for more than 30 years for Norfolk Southern Railroad. Basketball, however, remains a passion for him as does serving Christ as a minister and mentor for the players in his Trinity Prep basketball program.
“In the three years I’ve been here, we’ve competed for championships, and we were the runner-up the previous two years. Our league, the GAPPS, is pretty good at the top and at the start of this year, we thought would be in a complete rebuild. But we had some new kids come in at the start of the year.
“We were kind of raw at the start, but we played a tough schedule. Every year, we play in the Dacula Tip-off Tournament, a Christmas tournament and some GHSA (Georgia High School Association) teams to prepare us for our league,” Cline said.
At Dacula back in November, the Lions lost to Pope and Discovery out of Lawrenceville from the GHSA. They opened the season with narrow wins over Hills Academy in Conyers and also got wins against Lanier Christian Academy in Flowery Branch and GHSA member Greene County (63-59) in January in Greensboro. They also played and lost to Maynard Jackson out of Atlanta.
The schedule got the team ready for its region foes in Academy of the Oaks, Horizon Christian and Shiloh Hills Christian of Kennesaw.
“Some of our new guys got overlooked at where they were at and they’re coming from really big schools that surround us. But, they can really play and if you can get your name out there, and we had been runner-up the last two years, they came. We film our games and we’re on Max Preps, we have the full basketball synopsis,” Cline said.
The Lions got a big lift from a freshman point guard Beau Blocker. Though small, Blocker is quick and a good shot. He wound up leading the team in scoring with 17.6 points per game.
The key player for the Lions, however, was its returning post in center Preston Tuggle.
“He’s been here for five or six years and he’s a coach’s son. We play a lot of zone because he is so big on his wing span. But when we got against the better teams, we saw we could not leave certain guys alone. So we played more man with Preston playing in the center, but against the weaker posts. That way he could help out and he was a great rim protector.”
The 6-foot-5 Tuggle was fourth in scoring at 12.4 per game, but led in two other categories with 8.9 rebounds and 4.9 blocks. He was second in assists at 3.4 per game.
Two juniors Christian Calhoun and Shane Harvey provided scoring from the wings. Calhoun averaged 15.3 points and 4.8 rebounds while Harvey was at 15.1 points but led the team with 4.0 assists.
The teams two lone seniors Jaden Brown and Christopher Jeralds added seven points collectively per game.
“We were raw at the beginning, my shooting guard was running point and we had a center at a guard spot, but eventually, we meshed,” Cline said. “But this was my most athletically gifted team. I have three or four guys who can sky.”
Cline said Excel proved a different challenge for his team.
“They were kind of small, but they played 11 public schools, and they had three kids averaging 20 points a game. And when I looked further, they played the GHSA Private last year,” Cline said. “We played man the whole game because one of their kids shot 41 percent from 3-point range for the season. We held him to 21.”
Cline said he used seven to eight players per game for much of the season.
“When the playoffs came, it got tighter. You’d love to play everybody, but we were really inexperienced with our younger guards,” Cline said.
Next season, the Lions return most of its lineup. He would like to schedule some Walton County teams, but that remains to be seen. Cline will continue to play larger public schools in the Dacula Tournament and around Christmas.
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