CHSAA Freshmen Championship; One for the history books
BRONX, NY - The 2019 CHSAA Freshmen Championship game at a packed to the rafters St. Raymond’s H.S. had a lot riding on it, especially for one team. For the Cardinals Hayes Cardinals, it went beyond them going undefeated for the entire season. If Hayes were to win Saturday’s championship game against St. Raymond it would be the first time the Cardinals had ever won a freshmen championship, ever.
Hayes head coach Joel Shapiro wasn’t shy about admitting he used that uncharted territory as the team’s primary motivator. “We used it from the beginning of the year. We told them, do something that’s never been done and no one will take that away from you.”
In the first half in seemed that both the deck and the score were stacked against Hayes but after regrouping and refocusing at the break, the Cardinals snatched the momentum and the lead from the Ravens and never returned it en route to a 66 – 58 win and a place in the school’s history.
Throughout the first quarter, St. Ray’s gave the Cardinals proverbial punches in the face as they Jaden-Lei Encarnacion and Elijah Castillo attacked Hayes’s front court successfully. After taking a one-point lead into the second quarter, costly turnovers by the Cardinals and an emphatic dunk by 6’7” Vindell Witherspoon extended the Ravens advantage to 28 – 21 as both team exited to the respective halftime locker room.
At the half, Coach Shapiro said he told his team to take better care of the ball and identified that they were playing zone against them. “I told my guards to take better care of the ball and we should be OK.”
Trialing as the third quarter got underway, Hayes tried to make inroads as 6’6” big man Tobe Awaka was pounding the paint. St. Ray’s, however, had two momentum killing, long ball shooting specialists that struck from the right and left in Isaiah Philbert and Mark Rodriquez, Jr.
With 3:15 left in the third, the Cardinals were still down by 9 points but point guard C.J. Riley drained a trey as did Mykel Kelley that set off an 11 – 3 run capped off by a bucket in transition by Jaylin Simmons. St. Raymond’s lead to one point as the third quarter ended.
At the top of the fourth quarter, Hayes took its first lead since the first quarter as Weeks scored free-throws and Simmons scored again off as fast break. The Ravens did manage to tie the game a 44 but that was the closest they would ever be to regaining the lead as Riley went into get-busy mode and finished the Ravens off to take of the high school’s first freshmen championship hardware.
“C.J. had a tough first half,” said Shapiro. “In the second half, he had to trust others, and make some plays for other people. A couple of assists got him going but when its money time he usually steps up.”
Riley led Cardinal Hayes with 17 points with Simmons adding 11 points. Castillo was the high scorer for St. Raymond with a game high 21 points.