The boys basketball team has played the role of underdog, and done it to perfection all season long -- except for Wednesday night when the Friars ran into an even bigger dark horse.
In one of the most unlikely playoff runs in Long Island history, seventh-seeded St. John the Baptist shook off a 1-11 regular season and clawed its way to a Nassau-Suffolk CHSAA postseason championship.
Kyle Williams, all 6-foot-9 of him, was the centerpiece, scoring 34 points and grabbing 32 rebounds as the Cougars pulled away from No. 5 St. Anthony’s, 82-70, at Hofstra’s Mack Sports Complex.
“We came this far,” Williams said. “We’re in the championship. We might as well win it.”
It was Leap Day and no one had more ups than Williams. He dominated the low post, altering shots, pulling down defensive boards and finishing around the rim on the offensive end.
Williams kicked off a championship-clinching 18-3 run with a putback with 3:50 left to give the Cougars a 66-62 edge. Senior Vincent Yancigay followed up with his second three-pointer in as many minutes to stretch the lead to 69-62. SJB (7-20) tightened its grip from there.
“We wanted to stay with what got us here,” St. Anthony’s Coach Jim Fenton said. “That’s our speed, our defense. They outworked us. They did a great job. This kid gets 32 rebounds – that’s hard to beat.”
The guard-heavy Friars (13-14) have used their speed all season long to offset any size difference. Yet no one could match up with Williams in the low post and he made the Friars pay.
The Friars took a 36-31 lead into the half against SJB. Sophomore guard Andre Walker led St. Anthony’s with 17 points, 7 assists and 6 boards. It looked to be a repeat of the semifinals, where the Friars upset No. 1 Kellenberg, 72-56.
SJB rallied. This is the Cougars’ first playoff title since 2009 and third in the last eight seasons. But when you consider that SJB upended Holy Trinity, then St. Mary’s and St. Anthony’s – all teams the Cougars lost to twice during the regular season – only then does the sheer improbability of this run come into focus.
“I knew we were going to click sooner or later,” first-year Cougars Coach Andre Edwards said. “We went through so much. The administration supported me throughout. We had an eight-game losing streak. I didn’t get frustrated.”
Now St. John the Baptist moves on to the state CHSAA Class A playoffs, a suddenly hot team no one should be eager to play.
But St. Anthony’s has no regrets.
“We weren’t expected to be here,” Fenton said. “I’m going to tell them to keep their heads up. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. They played their hearts out. That’s all I ask.”
Nassau-Suffolk CHSAA Boys Basketball Tournament
Championship @ Hofstra’s Mack Sports Complex
Teams..............................1.....2.....3.....4 – F
St. John the Baptist.......17...14...26...25 – 82
St. Anthony’s..................17...19...14...20 – 70
SJB: Joyner 1-0-3, Gilyard 6-2-14, Abbondola 4-2-14, Lloyd 1-0-2, Williams 14-6-34, Sinclair 2-0-4, Yancigay 3-0-8, Jacob 0-3-3. Totals: 31-13-82. SA:Walker 4-8-17, Casimir 2-3-8, Gordon 3-0-8, Pierrot 5-3-15, Carter 6-1-15, Williams 3-1-7. Totals: 23-16-70. Three-pointers – SJB: 7 (Abbondola 4, Yancigay 2, Joyner); SA: 8 (Gordon 2, Pierrot 2, Carter 2, Walker, Casimir).