NEW PORT RICHEY — It has been 15 years since River Ridge High had a boys basketball team with an above .500 record.
However, coach Chuck Butler has bigger aspirations for his team. The Royal Knights, at 13-12, want to reach region tournament by coming out of competitive Class 5A-District 8 that includes Tarpon Springs, Land O’ Lakes, Gulf and Anclote.
“If our team comes out to play like we’ve been playing, we’ll have a great chance to reach the postseason,” Butler said. “We took Tarpon Springs to double overtime the other night and just ran out of gas that night. It’s going to be a tough first game against Anclote. We started off slow this season, but I’m glad we’ve finished off strong.”
A slow start made many wonder if River Ridge would recover and become a viable district contender. River Ridge lost three of its first four games: Ridgewood (58-51), Anclote (43-39) and Gulf (55-38). The Royal Knights would, however, win five of their next six games, but then go on another short skid. Though the team finished off the season losing three straight, Butler points out all three were state-ranked teams: Mitchell, Tarpon Springs and Inverness Citrus.
Starting shooting guard Kyle McCoy, who’s averaging 9.8 points, said even though the team may have had more talent last year, this season’s team has more chemistry and really come together throughout the fall and winter.
“Last year, we had a bunch of attitudes and it was hard getting any type of unity going amongst the team,” McCoy said. “This season has been so much different and we’ve bonded really well. Its been good with coach Butler. He was my JV coach when I was coming up and he’s always had a good game plan going into every single game.”
The strongest part of River Ridge is its seniors, which is led by McCoy and 6-foot-10 center, John Childs, who is averaging 16 points and 11.2 rebounds. Both players have been cogs in the program and each have played for Butler the past five years from junior varsity to varsity. With sophomore Eliseo Sanchez also contributing with six points a game and making 18 of 38 3-point attempts, River Ridge’s near and distant future looks bright.
“I’ve had these seniors for five years now and being with these kids this long has been a joy,” Butler added. “We wouldn’t be here without John (Childs) and you can say the same with Kyle (McCoy). Eliseo (Sanchez) has been a major part to our success. They all know their roles. When they come together as a team, we’re able to do anything.”
Correspondent Andy Villamarzo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.