STATEN ISLAND, NY - Turn back the clock 7 months to this past August. St. Anthony's H.S. had just won the Conrad McRae Girls Championship to close out the summer and the talk at that time was clear, the Friars goal this season was a CHSAA Class "AA" State Championship, and they believed they had all the pieces to get it done.
Come back to present time and St. Anthony's was exactly where they hoped and thought they would be on this Saturday afternoon, they were at St. John Villa Academy on Staten Island, playing for that CHSAA Class "AA" State Championship they talked about all the way back in August, and having downed Christ the King in the semifinals the night before, they were able to fight through nerves and exhaustion to take down Msgr. Scanlan 57-43 to bring home the title for the second time in three years.
Having played what many considered to be their biggest, and toughest game of the year less than 24 hours earlier against Christ the King in the semifinals, St. Anthony's wasn't at peak performance for the State Championship Game head coach Ken Parham admitted, but that's why his girls had to get some training done before the bus left to head to Staten Island.
"I think Christ the King took a lot out of us because we played really hard and they are a great program," Parham admitted. "So before we came here about 5 or 6 of the girls spent 30 minutes in the training room at St. Anthony's just to get themselves going again."
It isn't usually that hard to get up for a State Championship Game, but when you go from playing Christ the King to Msgr. Scanlan, a number of the Friars girls admitted that in a way it felt like Friday night's win in many ways was their title game.
It wasn't though as guard Allyson Murphy '16 explained. They still had to get by the Crusaders if they wanted to achieve the goal they set for themselves way back during the summer, and if they wanted to do that, they were going to need to bring the same effort in her eyes as they did against the Royals on Friday.
"We said that Friday was a big game and a lot of people were doubting us in it, but we held on the whole time and we knew we could do it, and we did," Murphy stated. "But we all said to ourselves that we had to come out with the same intensity today also because you never know."
Anything could happen on any given day, especially against a Scanlan team that has been much improved since the time these two teams met in December out in Long Island in a game that St. Anthony's won handily.
The Friars though couldn't take anything for granted, and early on they did a nice job of getting into the lane with guard Taylor Goode '16 scoring and finishing around the basket, and with Murphy able to score 6 points in the opening quarter as well, St. Anthony's didn't look like a team that was looking past their opponents, taking a 16-8 lead after one.
If the opening quarter was exactly the way that St. Anthony's wanted to play, the second quarter was in almost the exact way of how they didn't want to play as the Friars forced up bad perimeter shots at unnecessary times, and they started to become uncannily sloppy with the ball in their hands, and with Delphynia Sparks '17 shooting the ball extremely well down the stretch of the first half for the Crusaders, Msgr. Scanlan was able to get back into the game and be down by just a 27-21 score at the break.
It was a quarter to forget in Goode's eyes as she said that her squad needed to come out and play harder and with more intensity in the second half, while Parham said that they Friars never really adjusted in the first half to how the game was being called and that it cost them in the second quarter.
"The game was being called extremely tight and that took away some of our aggressiveness," Parham said. "Scanlan has good offensive players and we were backing off a little bit and they hit some shots and kept competing so we had to do much more to make sure we kept the lead in the second half."
Too close for comfort was how Murphy put how the game was at the half, and the team once again rallied around the fact that the 5 seniors, all of whom are major and key contributors, didn't want to go home short of their goal, so it shouldn't have been any surprise that to start the 3rd, the Friars once again assumed their will on the game.
Instead of backing off on the Scanlan shooters, St. Anthony's closed out better and didn't allow for good perimeter looks for the likes of Sparks and Nukiya Mayo '16, who struggled to get anything going all game long, and with Jayla Jones-Pack '16 starting to get going with strong post up moves inside, the Friars scored the first 6 points of the 3rd to build their biggest lead of the game at 33-21.
Give Scanlan credit though as they came right back on the other end and scored the next 7 to cut the deficit to just 5 points, but there were just too many St. Anthony's options. Goode once again was able to beat her defender off the dribble, Jones-Pack was able to post up and finish whenever she seemingly wanted, and when Sarah Edmond '16 was able to close row quarter with a baseline drive down the left side, the Friars and a 41-28 lead going to the 4th.
With the title finally within an arm’s length distance, the Friars tightened up on defense even more and never allowed the Crusaders to get within single digits again. Every time it looked as if Scanlan might be making a run, there was a Friars player to hit a big shot and cut off all hope they may have had.
As the seconds ticked down it was fitting that Murphy was the one dribbling out the clock as one of the biggest believers in her team's chances this season in winning the State Championship was the one who got to throw the ball up in the air in celebration as the clock hit zeros as St. Anthony's achieved their dreams and claimed the CHSAA Class "AA" State Championship, taking down Msgr. Scanlan for the title 57-43.
It was 3 seniors who led the way for St. Anthony's in their title game win as Goode had 15 points, Jones-Pack added 13 points, and Murphy chipped in with 12 points, and it's no surprise that they were the ones carrying the load as all 3 of them were on the Friars team 2 years ago that won the Class "AA" State Championship, and even though they weren't major contributors to that title winning team, they knew that what they learned during that season as sophomores from the seniors would benefit them in this game today.
"The older girls then really went hard at us in practice which made us better, and which excelled out game to help us today," Murphy said.
As Parham admitted after the game, Msgr. Scanlan never quit and their head coach Tom Catalanotto has a lot to be proud about with a fantastic season, coming up 1 win short of a Class "AA" Championship, a championship he didn't even know was possibly just a month ago.
Sparks had 18 points in the defeat to lead the Crusaders, while Janier Cooper '17 added 12 points of her own in the loss, though with a core group of underclassmen coming back, expect big things again next year from this talented Msgr. Scanlan group.
It's history though for St. Anthony's as this senior class is now a part of a small group that can call themselves 2 time CHSAA Class "AA" State Champions. It's something that this team has talked about for months upon months and now it has become reality.
It's the finish of a goal that they have had for a long time in Goode's eyes, but there are still goals ahead, with the New York State Class "AA" Federation Tournament all locked in for them next weekend now.
They will have a first round date there on Friday with Long Island Lutheran, a game that Murphy says is one they have wanted for a long time, and they hope to capitalize on this opportunity and win one more title before all is said and done.
"We have been waiting for that day to play them. We have them first round and get that done and then hopefully win the Federation Title."