When the St. Mary's faithful stormed the court for a choreographed mosh-pit celebration that had been planned far in advance following their 77-53 win against Holy Trinity at Hofstra in last night's CHSAA championship game, the Gaels' championship tradition was officially re-established.
Charles McCann and his teammates wanted to be part of St. Mary's return to glory. They were well aware of the eight consecutive CHSAA titles their predecessors won from 1998 to 2005, but they were also unfortunate enough to know that the team hasn't played at a championship-caliber level since.
They have finally returned to that level thanks in part to a two-minute stretch in the third quarter where their full-court press became so unbearable that they forced No. 4 Holy Trinity into six consecutive turnovers without crossing midcourt. Nursing a three-point lead, Chauvaughn Lewis ignited a 14-0 run with a three-point play with 5:18 to go in the third. Six turnovers later, Lewis was throwing down a two-handed jam that gave the No. 3 Gaels (20-7) their biggest lead of the game at 46-29 and they never looked back.
"It feels good to be able to do it for our seniors," said McCann, the game's Most Valuable Player. "Everyone was on their 'A' game tonight."
Holy Trinity (12-13) cut the lead to five after a three by Tyler Seidman and a runner by Nick Ferreiro with 7:02 left in the fourth, but St. Mary's went on to outscore the Titans 27-12 in the final quarter.
McCann, Lewis and Dante Agnew each had 18 points in St. Mary's balanced attack.
"We wanted this the whole season," Lewis said. "We worked for it the whole season, and we came out here to play."
Holy Trinity captured momentum in the first half after Ferreiro, who led the Titans with 14 points, scored eight points, but his biggest contribution came as a distributor. He found Richard Bess under the basket with a no-look inbounds pass for a layup to pull the Titans within two with just under one minute remaining in the half. Thomas Botsaris then hit a running floater with seconds left in the second quarter to tie the score at 24.
Agnew set the pace for the Gaels in a fast-paced, physical first quarter, with eight of the team's 12 points. When the defense collapsed on Chaz Morrish as he drove, he kicked the ball to a wide-open Agnew in the corner, who hit his second from downtown to open a five-point St. Mary's lead.
St. Mary's advanced to play Nichols (Buffalo) in a state semifinal Saturday at a time and site to be determined.
"That's all they talked about," St. Mary's coach Bill Harkins said of his players' desire to re-establish the winning tradition. "They know the history of St. Mary's and they wanted to get it back to that."