Saints’ De La Cruz says goodbye

Senior center wouldn’t trade anything for experience at Flagler

By Kristina Haumschild |

Ben De la Cruz has said his final goodbyes to Flagler College basketball after a heart-breaking, over-time loss at Alabama Huntsville.

“I felt [the OT loss] was fitting. We had a heart-breaker of a season. The ball didn’t bounce our way in the last two minutes the way it did last year, but that’s part of the game,” De la Cruz said.

For his career, De la Cruz landed in Flagler’s record books with 1,300 total points (sixth), 865 rebounds (third) and first over all with 145 blocked shots. Since his 2005-2006 freshman season, De la Cruz has made his presence known on the court, earning Florida Sun Conference Freshman of the Year.

“Ben is by far the best center I’ve ever had the opportunity to play with,” said D.J Ferguson, sophomore point guard for the Saints. “His toughness and tenacity sets him apart from other people.”

Besides his 6-foot-6-inch presence down low, Ferguson attributes De la Cruz’s hands. “The thing I like most about Ben is something a lot of people wouldn’t notice for a big guy: he has very good hands,” Ferguson said. “For a point guard that is crucial because he caught passes most people wouldn’t have.”

When asked which season is most memorable, De la Cruz points to the 2007-2008 season.

“Last year was awesome. We had such a great team,” De la Cruz said. “The chemistry on the floor was amazing and our swagger was unbelievable. Every game we played, we had a chance to win because we had so many weapons. We had six guys that could give you 20 points any night.

“It’s a shame we weren’t in a conference because we could have done some damage.”

Unlike last season, when the Saints went 20-7, the guys had to settle just under .500, with a 12-15 record. Starters De la Cruz, Ferguson and John Pietkiewicz proved to be the dynamic trio for Flagler this season.

De la Cruz finished with 362 points and 207 rebounds. Ferguson contributed 309 points and 185 assists, adding to his 207 assists from last season and moving up to third in the record books for career assists. Pietkiewicz totaled 410 points with 91 three-point shots, missing the single season record by one. With his speed and three-point abilities, senior John Matthews came off the bench to contribute 348 points in his final season in a Saints uniform.

Brandon Johnson complimented De la Cruz down low, averaging 7.3 rebounds per game. If there was one thing Ferguson could change about the season, he said it would be how the team started off 1-6.

“It’s just so hard to overcome such a bad start. I would have liked to start the season off better and who knows what may have happened.”

The past is in the past, now Coach Bo Clark and the Saints must look to the future to rebuild for their first season in the Peach Belt Conference.

“I don’t think we’ll have to make any major adjustments,” said Pietkiewicz, sophomore starting guard. “I felt as a team we were real close to connecting the dots. Hopefully we’ll be able to bring in some good recruits to contribute right away next season.”

Ferguson added, that offensively, it’s going to be hard to replace Matthew’s shooting and De la Cruz and Johnson’s size, but hopefully help will emerge from the existing roster.

For now, a main concern is to try to replace the “Big Guy” down low.

“He [De la Cruz] was a great leader who took basketball very seriously, which led him to have the utmost respect from all his teammates,” said Pietkiewicz. “He brought it every day in practice and led by example.”

When asked to sum up his four years at Flagler, De la Cruz described it as a wild roller coaster.

“It had its cliché highs and lows, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

As April draws near, De la Cruz will officially conclude his stay at Flagler as he walks across stage to accept his diploma. He is currently exploring some options to further his basketball career overseas in the Dominican Republic, but is unsure at the moment.

One final note, De la Cruz would like to leave some final words for his coach and teammates: “It’s been a fun ride. All the best in the Peach Belt next year. I’m out. Peace!”

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