MIDDLE VILLAGE, NY - It hasn't been easy for Christ the King against teams from outside of New York City. When they have gone out to compete against the very best that the rest of the country has to offer they have struggled, but they have been starting to turn that around as of late.
The early season tests though are clearly starting to help the Royals as we work towards the final stretch of the season, and against a very good Capital Prep team from Connecticut on Saturday at the Christ the King Apparel Challenge they showed that they are rounding into form at exactly the right time as behind the 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists from forward Ashlie Howell '16, CK was able to come away with a 79-74 victory.
Having beaten Capital Prep just under 2 weeks ago up in Connecticut by 3, Christ the King did have good vibes going against the Trailblazers. They had the confidence in knowing what to do to take them down for a second time, it was just executing according to head coach Bob Mackey, and getting the x-factor to step up in a big way.
Everyone expects guards Sydney Zambrotta '16 and Dominique Toussaint '16 to have big games. They are ACC bound players who constantly put up numbers, but it was Howell that was going to need to play well in the coach's eyes to bring the Royals the W.
"Ashlie is the one who when she plays well, we usually play well," Mackey said. "She is the x-factor and the key in a lot of ways to our success."
From the very start to could see that Howell understood her importance to the team in this one as she was aggressive inside early on, scoring 6 points in the opening quarter and imposing her will. It was Howell and freshman sensation forward Kaelynn Satterfield '19 who spurred CK on as they built a lead in the 2nd quarter of as big as 36-22.
Kaela Kinder '16 who recently returned from injury was also big in the opening half in the backcourt for the Royals, but Capital Prep made a big run late in the half as Angelique Rodriguez '17 connected on a long three, and Desiree Elmore '16 had 6 straight as the Trailblazers closed the half on a 13-0 run to cut the Christ the King lead to just 36-35.
It was a good start to the game, but the last 3 minutes of the half really soured all the good in Mackey's eyes of what they had accomplished in the early going.
"We made some mistakes to let them back in the game, and you cannot give good teams opportunities to get back into games," Mackey stated.
He was adamant at the half that they couldn't rest of their laurels the way he felt his team did in the opening half, and you could sense the urgency in the Royals eyes to get back the comfortable they once held.
If not for the strong play of Lizahya Morgan '17, Capital Prep could've had a rough go of it in the 3rd quarter as they didn't get many good perimeter looks, and with Toussaint and Howell able to score in and around the rim, the Royals had a 5 point lead going to the 4th, but they were struggling to put away a solid Trailblazer team.
The Royals looked as if they had the game wrapped up, going up as much as 8 in the final stanza, but a bucket in the lane by Desiree Davis '18 was followed up by a three and the foul by Elmore, and suddenly it was just 75-74 for CK with the Royals in need of a big bucket with good just under 40 seconds to play in the game.
They got just that as Zambrotta had the ball outside and she would find a cutting Kinder for a bucket inside to push the lead back to 3.
Capital Prep had 1 more chance to tie as Na'Jae Davis '18 had what looked to be a good look from the right wing for three, but Howell came up huge with a major block as the shot fell short with Zambrotta grabbing the rebound with 1.7 seconds to go. She could calmly step up to the FT line and knock down both from the charity stripe to put the game away and give Christ the King their second win in under 2 weeks against Capital Prep, taking them down in this one 79-74.
Howell led all scorers in the win with 19, 10, and 7 assists, while Kinder and Zambrotta each had 16 points, and Toussaint added 14 points in what Mackey called an overall great play from everyone on the Royals roster.
Rodriguez and Elmore each led Capital Prep with 15 points apiece, while Morgan added 13, and Davis had 12 in what was a tough loss once again for the Trailblazers as they now have 3 losses as a team, with 2 coming from Christ the King and the other coming from another NYC power in Bishop Loughlin.
It was a great win for Christ the King in many ways, but it was important as they head into a big league play stretch over the next week going up with both The Mary Louis Academy and Bishop Loughlin on the schedule, and the way they are looking now, Mackey thinks they are just about where he wants them to be, especially with Howell coming on as a major force for a peaking Royals team.
"I think we still have a little bit of work to do on a couple of things, but today was good work. Ashlie really came to play, she absolutely killed it today and we are healthy which really makes a huge difference."