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FAITH BEING RESTORED
Lions look to make history in playoffs
On the eastern wall of Faith Christian High's C.A. Summy Gymnasium hang a plethora of blue banners commemorating league championships won by the Lions over the years.
Mixed in with the blue banners is a smattering of yellow pennants which signify Faith Christian teams that have played in or won section championships.
Since the school opened in 1975, the varsity boys basketball program has put its name on just two of those banners — once for a league title and once for appearing in the section title game.
The 2012-13 version of the Lions have played under one mantra all season: "We're shooting for yellow."
Faith accomplished one of its goals by winning the school's first league championship in 20 seasons, but the real quest begins on Wednesday at home when the Lions host Trinity Prep in the opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoffs.
"That's been our goal since day one," said third-year Faith coach Rick Daugherty. "You could see this thing building over the last three seasons ... it all came together this year."
Since taking over the program in 2010-11, Daugherty's teams have gone a combined 64-20. In his first season, the Lions set a school record by winning 21 games.
Daugherty, a teacher at Faith who's coached in several different capacities over the past 10 years, has taken his team to the postseason in each of his three seasons as the varsity boys' head man.
The last two years, Faith opted to play up in Division V for the postseason, despite owning a significantly lower enrollment total than several of its opponents.
The Lions (101-student enrollment) were ousted from the playoffs last season by eventual section champion Capital Christian (377 students) and were knocked out by Ripon Christian (248 students) in 2010-11.
"We went as far as we could go," Daugherty said. "We just wanted to restore some pride in the basketball program and bring it some success."
Faith earned the No. 1 seed in this year's eight-team D-VI bracket — quite a different scenario than the last Faith team to make a deep playoff run.
The 1997-98 Lions, led by A-D Alll-Area Coach of the Year Steve Tennis, were an 11 seed in Division V and upset the No. 3, 6 and 7 seeds en route to the section title game where they lost 57-48 to Brookside Christian (30-1 record) at the venue formerly known as Arco Arena.
That's the only Faith boys basketball team with a yellow banner hanging on the wall.
The last Faith Christian team to win a league title was the 1992-93 team, led by coach Bruce Porter, which finished 20-5 and 10-0 in league play.
Featuring a pair of 6-foot-9 forwards, Kenny Van Kirk and Mark Dutra, the Lions reached the Division V semifinals, where they lost to eventual section champion Ripon Christian.
Senior guard Micah Atkins wasn't even alive when that team was making headlines, but has noticed Van Kirk's No. 44 jersey retired on the wall.
"We didn't' know we hadn't won league in 20 years until after our last game," Atkins said with a laugh. "We don't put much thought into things like that, we just want to win."
And Atkins will be a key factor if the Lions hope to win the program's first section title.
A three-year varsity standout, and only returning starter from last season, Atkins averages 17 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals per game.
Junior sharpshooter Justin Glen averages 16 points per game with five rebounds per contest.
Daugherty also lauded the play of seniors Drew LeBlanc and Deep Bhatti, who he said have stepped up this year in starter roles. Add in New Life Christian transfer Jordan Sullivan (10 points per game), and the Lions have good reason to believe they can make a run at the championship.
Glen got a taste of the playoffs last year as a late-season JV call-up.
"I think that was good preparation for me last year because now I know what to expect," Glen said. "We've never lost sight of our goal, and that's getting a yellow banner."
Faith's first-round opponent, Trinity Prep of Napa, may be 10-13 this season, but Daugherty said his team is treating each game like it's the section title game.
From the opening tip-off, he wants to see the fire and intensity that carried the Lions to the league title.
"The intensity definitely picks up," Atkins said. "We just have to practice like normal, play like normal and then the intensity kind of just comes with the atmosphere.
"I don't see any let-up from our team."