When the St. Mary’s faithful stormed the court for a choreographed mosh-pit celebration 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 championships their predecessors won from 1998 to 2005 but they were also unfortunate enough to know that the team hadn’t played at a championship-caliber level since.
They have finally returned to that level thanks in part to a two-minute stretch during the third quarter where their full-court press became so unbearable that they forced Holy Trinity to commit six consecutive turnovers without even crossing mid-court. Nursing a three-point lead, Chavaughn Lewis ignited a 14-0 run completing 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 Gaels a 46-29 lead, their biggest of the game at the time 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 managed to cut the lead to five after a three by Tyler Siedman and a runner by Nick Ferreiro with 7:02 left in the fourth but St. Mary’s continued to force turnovers and responded with a 14-2 run, capped by a beautiful up-and-under by Agnew with 2:55 remaining. The Gaels went on to outscore the Titans 27-12 in the fourth quarter and exploded for 53 second-half points.
McCann, Lewis, and Dante Agnew each had 18 points to lead 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 never held a lead in the game but captured the momentum heading into the locker room at the half after Ferreiro scored eight of his team-high 14 points. But his ability to find the open man was his biggest contribution. He found Richard Bess under the basket with a no-look, in-bound pass for the lay-in to pull the Titans within two with just under one minute remaining in the half. Thomas Botsaris then hit a running floater with seconds remaining in the second quarter to tie the game at 24.
Agnew set the pace for the Gaels in a fast-paced, physical first quarter, accounting for eight of the Gaels’ 12 points in the quarter. When the defense collapsed on Chaz Morrish as he drove the lane, he kicked it out to a wide-open Agnew in the corner, who hit his second from downtown to open up a five-point St. Mary’s lead.
No. 2 St. Mary’s looks to extend their championship season in the state semifinal game against Nichols (Buffalo) on Saturday with the time and venue to be determined.
“That’s all they talked about,” St. Mary’s coach Bill Harkins said of his players’ desire to reestablish the winning tradition of the St. Mary’s basketball program. “They know the history of St. Mary’s and they wanted to get it back to that.”