With 9.8 seconds remaining, the girls basketball team had a 44-42 lead over Nazareth Regional High School. Following a timeout, Nazareth's Bianca Quevas fouled St. Anthony's Rebecca Musgrove, giving Musgrove a chance to seal an upset for the Friars.
What followed, however, was a display of athleticism that showed why Nazareth is nationally ranked.
Musgrove missed the front end of the one-and-one, and the Kingsmen came up with the rebound. Junior Darius Faulk quickly drove the ball down the floor and found Ford under the basket for a game-tying bucket.
After a St. Anthony's timeout, the Friars were faced with an inbounds play from their own end. Senior Micki Impellizeri was tasked with inbounding the ball.
"I saw people coming off screens," she said. "We had a play. They told us that it was coming down the side, and we had a play for that. It moved under the baseline, and that threw us off our game a little bit. I was just looking for whoever was open."
"They’re so athletic," added St. Anthony's coach Ken Parham. "They cover so much territory. Any kind of air under a pass, they run it down. What we were trying to do was get the ball inbounds, inbound it, and just try to bring the ball up the sideline and get off a decent shot."
No one was open, though, and Impellizeri's inbound was stolen by Faulk, who hit two free throws after being fouled by the Friars' Chastity Taylor. Another stolen inbounds pass later, St. Anthony's season was over, as a 46-44 loss to Nazareth went final.
"We were just trying to get a shot off," said Parham. "We were trying to let [our team] get the ball in, be safe. Apache and his coaching staff did a nice job. They smelled it out."
The loss stung for St. Anthony's, who came back from an abysmal second quarter to put themselves in position to win it with seconds remaining.
"When you’re winning the game with four seconds to go up 2, you don’t expect to lose," Parham said. "But that’s how good they are, and that’s how quickly they change things around. They probably scored that last basket in two seconds, and all five of them had their head under the rim. That’s how quick they move from offense to defense, or defense to offense in that case."
Heroes: Impellizeri and junior Symone Kelly, St. Anthony's two featured low-post players, had an easy time dominating . Things were tougher in the post on Saturday, as Nazareth had bigger players to match up against the Friars' targets. But they were still the team's top performers on the day, each coming up just short of a double-double.
Kelly led all scorers with 15, 11 of which came in the second half. She added 9 rebounds, 4 steals, and an assist. Impellizeri had 9 points, led the Friars with 10 rebounds, and added two steals, two assists, and a block. Adding to St. Anthony's cause was Kerrin Mauer, who netted all 8 of her points in the second half and contributed five rebounds, three assists, and two steals.
Nazareth's attack was led by Ford and Faulk, who also provided the Kingsmen's late-game heroics. Ford led the Kingsmen with 14 points, adding five rebounds and two blocks. Faulk had 10 points, five rebounds, and three steals, none of which were bigger than the one leading to the game-clinching free throws she hit with 1.3 seconds remaining.
What hurt St. Anthony's the most was the versatility of the Kingsmen. "They were tough all over the court," said Impellizeri. "They had a bunch of fast guards, a couple of big kids in the middle. They were really playing us tight the whole game. Our goal was to match them and to out-hustle them to make up for that, their strength."
Turning Point: Nazareth's athleticism started to kick into gear during the second quarter. After Kelly hit two free throws to put St. Anthony's up 12-5 early, the Friars would be held off the scoreboard for nearly the rest of the quarter, as the speed and physicality of Nazareth appeared to wear on them. The Kingsmen put up 18 points from that point of the quarter and held St. Anthony's to three (a three-pointer from Rebecca Musgrove).
"There’s a lot of things that we’re able to do against a lot of teams that we just couldn’t do against them," said Parham. "I think from the beginning they showed that they’re really a good team. One through eleven over there, those kids can play."
Coming out of halftime, the Friars needed to adapt - quickly - to Nazareth's aggressiveness and strength. A switch to a match-up zone defense made the difference, and the Friars were markedly improved over the extent of the third quarter, holding Nazareth to six points. At the end of the quarter, the deficit was one, and St. Anthony's put itself in position to win.
"We did all the little things," said Kelly. "We knew that it came down to the backboard, so we tried our hardest to box them out and get every rebound that we could."
Key Stat: After being out-rebounded 20-14 in the first half, the Friars were able to hold Nazareth to 12 rebounds in the second half. The key was shutting down Nazareth's Bradley Ali, who had nine rebounds in the first half. She was held to just three in the second.
Bottom Line: The Friars' run over the past two seasons has established the school as a force in state-wide Catholic school basketball. They played Nazareth a lot closer than people expected, and although they were unable to pull it out, they have nothing to be ashamed of.
Quotable: Despite the loss, the St. Anthony's basketball program will look on the past two seasons with a remarkable deal of pride. Last year, the team was a finalist in the Long Island CHSAA championships and won the Class A CHSAA State Tournament. This year, they won their first Long Island championship since 1988 and completed their first undefeated season in regular-season CHSAA play (14-0) in school history.
"When we first came here, we had a completely different coach," said Maurer. "When Coach Parham came in, he just turned the program around. It’s just going to keep getting better and better each year."
Nazareth: Ford 6-8-14, Faulk 6-4-10, Cuevas 7-3-10, Jones 0-8-8, Sidney 0-4-4.
St. Anthony's: Kelly 4-11-15, M. Impellizeri 4-5-9, Maurer 0-8-8, Musgrove 3-2-5, Taylor 2-3-5, Williams 2-0-2.
Free Throws: Nazareth 12-18, St. Anthony's 14-17.
Rebounds: Nazareth 32 (10 O, 22 D), St. Anthony's 26 (8 O, 18 D).
- Nazareth: Brashey 12 (3 O, 9 D), Ford 5 (4 O, 1 D), Faulk 5 (1 O, 4 D), Jones 5 (1 O, 4 D), Cuevas 4 (2 O, 2 D), Brown (D).
- St. Anthony's: Impellizeri 10 (5 O, 5 D), Kelly 9 (4 O, 5 D), Maurer 5 (5 D), Musgrove (D).
Assists: St. Anthony's 10 (Maurer 3, M. Impellizeri 2, Taylor 2, Musgrove 2, J. Impellizeri), Nazareth 8 (Cuevas 4, Ali 2, Jones, Faulk).
Steals: St. Anthony's 14 (Kelly 4, Maurer 3, Williams 3, Musgrove 2, M. Impellizeri 2), Nazareth 13 (Sidney 4, Cuevas 3, Faulk 3, Jones 2, Ford).
Blocks: Nazareth 4 (Ford 2, Jones, Ali), St. Anthony's 1 (M. Impellizeri).