The stage was all too familiar for the St. Anthony’s duo of Sydney Taylor and Ashia Smith.
When the final buzzer sounded, so was the result.
Taylor delivered 15 points and five rebounds and Smith tacked on 14 points, five steals and three assists as No. 1 St. Anthony’s defeated No. 2 St. Mary’s, 57-37, in the CHSAA girls basketball Class AA final at Hofstra Tuesday night, locking up their fourth consecutive league title.
Call it a four-peat for the Friars.
“It means a lot to me to win four straight,” said Taylor, who was also named the league’s Class AA Player of the Year moments after receiving the championship plaque. “I’m always going to remember that and the people I played with. It feels great. I definitely wanted to show everybody what we’re all about.”
Smith said the Friars’ mindset entering the night propelled them from the get-go.
“We all came out here focused and with very high energy and intensity,” said Smith, who earned the game’s MVP honors. “We were all very motivated.”
St. Anthony’s coach Hugh Flaherty credited his seniors for continuing to meet the championship expectations they set for themselves in this dominant run that began back in 2016.
“They’ve been through the process and they really want this,” Flaherty said. “They run hard constantly in practice. And they really share the ball.”
St. Anthony’s (16-8) advances to the state semifinals on March 8. As the Friars await their next opponent, Smith certainly wasn’t short on confidence.
“If we play hard nobody should be able to stop us,” Smith said.
The Friars got off to a blazing start in the opening quarter with quality ball movement and applied consistent swarming defense once the Gaels passed midcourt. Back-to-back threes by Taylor gave St. Anthony’s an early 10-2 advantage at the 3:59 mark. She sidestepped and finished in the lane with 1:17 left to finish off an 18-4 quarter.
A layup by Smith about midway through the second gave the Friars their largest lead of the half at 24-7 before St. Mary’s responded with an 11-5 run to cut the deficit to 29-18 at the break.
The Friars widened the gap to 42-27 in the third, outscoring the Gaels 13-9 in the period prior to closing out strong in the fourth.
“Whatever the next challenge is, these girls are prepared to step up,” Flaherty said. “They don’t know how to back down.”