Friar Nation invades the Bronx this afternoon.
This season, the St. Anthony's girls basketball team has worn shirts with "FRIAR NATION" emblazoned across the back. The team gave itself another chance to wear those shirts Saturday, defeating Moore Catholic, 51-39, in a CHSAA Class A semifinal at St. Dominic.
The Friars will take on Buffalo Sacred Heart at Cardinal Spellman, in the state championship game Sunday at 3 p.m.
"It's our new thing," junior Micki Impellizeri said. "Our stat guy got the shirts for us. It's awesome."
Friar Nation is no autocracy. Its 11 members work equally toward a common goal and each is capable of taking the lead in any given game. Six different Friars scored Saturday with Rebecca Musgrove (15 points, nine rebounds), Symone Kelly (14 points, 14 rebounds), Jennifer Sixsmith (10 points) and Impellizeri (five points, six assists, four blocks, three steals) leading the way.
"They're unselfish," St. Anthony's coach Ken Parham said. "What really helps us get over the hump is they share the basketball. If you're playing us, you don't really know who's going to be that person that you need to stop on that day."
And although it stands on the brink of a championship, Friar Nation is still an emerging power. St. Anthony's (23-6) has just one senior, Mimi Lizza, and gets significant minutes from four freshman and three sophomores.
"Mimi is a great leader and we all listen to her," said Musgrove, a freshmen. "Everyone has stepped up. We think we can win this thing."
Much of the resources of Friar Nation have been committed to defense. Moore Catholic led 18-17 at halftime, but St. Anthony's didn't allow a second-half basket until 3:40 remained in the third quarter and outscored Moore 12-4 in the frame.
"That's what it's all about," Parham said. "I tell these girls, if they can't play defense they can't play."
Above all, Friar Nation is resilient. A car accident in January injured four players, including Impellizeri and Kelly, and ended the season for junior Kerrin Maurer. The Friars have rallied since.
That resilience was on display Saturday. Midway through the fourth quarter, Moore's Jessica Coscia capped an 8-3 run with a three-pointer, cutting the deficit to 41-36. It would get no closer.
St. Anthony's closed the game on a 10-3 run.
Said Musgrove: "I knew we had the lead but it wasn't big enough."
Now all that stands in the way of a state title and a trip to Federations is Sacred Heart (21-4), which beat St. Mary's, 51-48, earlier Saturday.
"This is amazing," Impellizeri said. "I've been here a few years. St. Anthony's girls basketball hasn't come this far."
With a win, March 14 could become the official holiday of Friar Nation.