Photo courtesy of Visions by Jeff/Jeffrey Armstrong
By David Cordova
The month of March is now here and many schools are bringing their seasons to a close in city or state tournaments. For those in the Catholic High School Athletic Association (also known as the CHSAA), the promised land is the holy grail of the Rose Hill Gymnasium on the campus of Fordham University in the Bronx.
There were two teams left on the second Sunday of the month to play in the finale. One was Christ the King of Middle Village, Queens, who was 23-5 coming into this game and winners of the Brooklyn/Queens Diocesan championship and a perennial powerhouse nationally. The other was Archbishop Stepinac of White Plains, who was 24-5, and the winner of the Bronx/Westchester Archdiocesan championship.
It would be the ultimate matchup for two teams who came from two different places. One program is from the city and the other is from the suburbs. The game would be a David vs. Goliath matchup in which one team would emerge as the winner.
Archbishop Stepinac 74, Christ the King 65
Early in the game, the Royals would have control of the game, due to the hot shooting of sophomore guard Ryan Myers (16 points), as they held a four-point lead, 11-7, with under three minutes left in the first quarter.
However, the Crusaders managed to stay close in the game, behind the play of senior forward and Illinois commit (20 points and eight rebounds), as they only trailed by four, 17-13, at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Christ the King continued to hold a lead after clutch free throw shooting from freshman forward Moussa Cisse (10 points, 11 rebounds and 12 blocks) and junior center Kofi Cockburn (16 points and 15 rebounds), which helped bring them to a nine-point lead, 28-19, with 2:22 to go.
Enter Stepinac, as senior forward Xavier Wilson (13 points and eight rebounds) made a couple of clutch layups and sophomore guard R.J. Davis (12 points and six assists), hit a three-pointer with 1.4 seconds to go to bring the Crusaders within two, 30-28, which would also be the lead at the half.
Myers would open up the third quarter by hitting a three to bring Christ the King’s lead to five, 33-28, in the first minute of the second half. But then Stepinac would take over behind baskets by Davis, junior center Joel Soriano (four points and seven rebounds) and Wilson, as they would then take the lead, 35-33, with 6:09 to go.
Christ the King continued to stay close behind a putback dunk by Cockburn and the free-throw shooting of sophomore guard Quaran McPherson (14 points), the Royals stayed within three, 41-38, with 2:45 to go in the third.
But then five consecutive points by Alan Griffin and freshman forward Adrian Griffin, Jr. (19 points and seven rebounds), as well as a three-pointer by junior guard Eddie Sanchez (five points), helped bring the Crusaders lead to nine, 49-38, with 1:44 to go. At the end of the third, Stepinac held a 12-point lead, 52-40.
Well within the fourth quarter, the Royals made one final run and cut the deficit to six, 60-54, with 4:40 left after a layup by Myers. But the Griffin brothers and Davis would score the last fourteen points of the game to close out a spectacular game and would help their program win their first championship since 2010, when they were in the A division and their first title on the AA level since 1960, when they beat Chaminade of Long Island, which makes the Crusaders the only team outside of the five boroughs to ever win a CHSAA AA city title.
What aided in Stepinac’s victory was the fact that they forced Christ the King into shooting 16.7% from the three-point line and 33.8% throughout the entire game. Although the Royals outrebounded the Crusaders, 44-38, and led in blocks, 12-7, the game was won by the team with the best effort and the team that seized the opportunity to make shots. On this date, it would be the team from the suburbs.
Now, all that is left for the Crusaders is a chance at the New York State Federation championship. But on March 23rd, in Glens Falls, they will have to go up against Long Island Lutheran, a team who was once ranked in the USA Today national poll for two weeks straight, and also holds the nickname the Crusaders.
For now, the Catholic school in White Plains can call themselves something that they haven’t in a while: CHSAA champions.