That’s why the girls on the bench beamed as they exchanged hugs. It was also pure relief.
After dominating the league during the regular season, the St. Anthony’s girls basketball team needed some late-game heroics to hold off St. John the Baptist, 51-48, and claim the Nassau-Suffolk CHSAA Class AA championship Sunday at LIU Post.
Siena-bound forward Symone Kelly led the way with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 3 steals, and was named Tournament MVP to go with regular season NSCHSAA player of the year honors.
“We just played our hardest and pulled it out,” Kelly said.
The Friars (23-4) have won 33 straight league games over the last two seasons, the second-longest streak in league history (St. Dominic once won 42 straight). Yet Coach Ken Parham’s team, which won each regular season league game by double digits, struggled to put away St. John the Baptist.
“They were well prepared, had a good game plan and played us really, really tough,” Parham said. “They made it really difficult. I’m just happy we did win.”
With St. Anthony’s clinging to a 49-48 lead with 14.5 seconds left, St. John’s fouled sophomore point guard Tyla Parham (7 points, 8 assists). She missed the front end of a one-and-one and the Cougars came down with the rebound and an opportunity to take control of the game.
But SJB never got off another shot. St. Anthony’s junior forward JoJo Impellizari (6 points, 12 boards, 3 blocks, 3 steals) intercepted a pass and put the ball back in Parham’s hands.
Parham was fouled once again, this time while driving to the basket with 2 seconds left. Officials called it an intentional foul, which gave Parham two free throws and the Friars the ball back. The guard sank both shots and then St. Anthony’s ran the clock out to secure the championship.
St. Anthony’s, ranked 22nd nationally by USA Today, advances to the state CHSAA Class AA quarterfinals, where it will face Molloy Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at St. Francis Prep (Queens).
“We’re going in the right direction,” Parham said. “I just hope we can continue this.”
St. John the Baptist (17-10) will play on too. The Cougars advance in the state CHSAA playoffs and will face Nazareth in the matinee at St. Francis at 5:45 p.m.
The Friars jumped in front 19-9 and it looked as though they would deliver another rout. St. John’s clawed its way back. Senior guard Brianna Thomas led SJB with 16 points before fouling out with 3:01 remaining and the Cougars trailing by three.
Still, this title wouldn’t be decided until the final frantic seconds.
Last season’s league championship was the first for the South Huntington parochial school since back-to-back titles in 1987-88. Now the and the momentum keeps building.
“This is huge for our school,” Kelly said. “They haven’t done it in a really long time.”
Nassau-Suffolk CHSAA Class AA Tournament
Championship @ LIU Post
Teams..............................1.....2.....3.....4 – F
St. John the Baptist.........9...14...12...13 – 48
St. Anthony’s..................12...13...15...11 – 51
SJB: Thomas 7-2-16, L. Williams 2-1-5, A. Williams 3-5-11, Smith 2-0-5, Peck 4-0-9, Stergis 1-0-2. Totals: 19-8-48. SA: Taylor 4-0-9, Parham 2-2-7, Impellizeri 3-0-6, Kelly 8-4-20, Musgrove 2-2-6, White 1-0-3. Totals: 20-8-51. Three-pointers – SJB: 2 (Smith, Peck); SA: 3 (Parham, Taylor, White).