GLEN FALLS, N.Y. -- Exactly one year ago to the date, the Long Island Lutheran boys basketball players and coaches were left wondering, ‘How could this have possibly happened?’
Last year -- due to a fault the New York State Federation of Secondary School Athletic Associations would later admit and apologize for -- Lutheran was issued a technical foul for calling a timeout when it had no timeouts remaining with 8.3 seconds remaining, when the team really did have a timeout left. The incident occurred with the score tied at 72, and the Crusaders surrendered the final four points from the foul line as their season ended without the chance to play in a state final.
Fast forward to Saturday evening, after the hours turned into days, days into weeks, weeks into months and the months continued to pile up before the chance to avenge a crushing loss that arguably never even should have happened, Lutheran finally had the opportunity to right the wrong and take home a championship. And the Crusaders weren’t going to let anything get in their way.
Lutheran defeated Christ the King, 51-31, in a boys basketball state Federation Class AA final at Cool Insuring Arena behind a stalwart defensive effort. It’s the Crusaders first Class AA title in program history, and its first Federation title since winning Class A in 2012 and its state-leading eighth Federation championship.
Andre Curbelo had 23 points, Essam Mostafa had 10 points and Jalen Celestine also added 10 in the win, as the team celebrated on the court after the final whistle.
"I've been here for three years," Mostafa said. "I wasn't going to leave without [the title] and we actually did it. We all worked so hard for this the whole year and we actually did it.
"After last year . . . we said we were going to come back this year, my senior year, and we were going to get it back and we actually did it."
Christ the King (20-11) scored the first five points Saturday, which was quickly answered by a 13-0 run by Lutheran over a span of 4 minutes, 30 seconds, taking a 13-4 lead with 2:10 remaining in the opening period. Curbelo scored nine of the 13 points during the run, with Mostafa adding the other four points.
With no scoring further for either team until nearly midway through the second quarter, Mostafa recorded the first basket of the period, finishing a three-point play at the basket, giving off a bellow after finishing through the contact. Christ the King scored eight of the game’s next nine points, before Lutheran scored five of the half’s final seven points, taking a 24-17 lead into the break. The Crusaders took a 31-25 lead into the fourth quarter.
The term “personal” continues to come up with the Crusaders. No matter how much they’ve tried to move on from last season and view this year as a new beginning, it’s a tough chore for the players on the court to forget how their 2018 season ended. It has stuck with the players throughout every game, practice, film session and preparation. It’s made the Crusaders take everything personally.
And after the last horn sounded and the Crusaders were finally able to celebrate the title they believed was taken from them last season, each player was able to leave with a first-place title and a feeling of vindication.