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BRONX, NY - Cardinal Hayes had been kings of the CHSAA all season long, going unbeaten until St. Peter's knocked them off on the Cardinals senior night a couple weeks ago. On Saturday, the two teams met again at Mount St. Michael with much more on the line, a Archdiocese of New York title. With a motivated Cardinal Hayes clicking on all cylinders, they controlled the game from start to finish to take the championship over the Staten Island school, 70-50.
When Cardinal Hayes won their CHSAA Archdiocese of NY semifinal on Tuesday, St. Peter's met St. Raymond for the right to meet them right after, and though St. Ray's is a massive rival from the Bronx, Cardinals head coach Joe Lods said he wasn't holding back his feelings on pulling for the Staten Island school.
"We were rooting for St. Peter's openly, and we didn't mask that fact," Lods said. "We wanted to play them again, there was no doubt about it."
Hayes senior forward Mustafa Jones said it wasn't just the unbeaten season that the Eagles ruined that night, it was senior night, and it was the jovial mood that the team was in that was also gone as a result of St. Peter's grabbing that win, and he added that it provided them any extra motivation they could have needed for Saturday's rematch.
"They came into our building and beat us which was a huge disappointment, so we wanted to come out and not only prove we were the best in the city, but get back at them a little bit," Jones added.
It was clear from the get go that Hayes was pumped for the game. Jemal Smith knocked down a pair of early treys, while PG Shavar Newkirk was spreading the floor and finding Jones and Nathan Ekwu for open shots around the rim.
The harassing defense Hayes was playing seemed to really contain all that the Eagles wanted to do as well, and St. Peter's Head Coach Charlie Driscoll said because of their interior presence in the paint, that the Cardinals clearly felt more comfortable doing different things on the perimeter.
"They face-guarded Glenn Sanabria and Latrell Curtis a lot, and really pushed us out further than we like offensively because they knew if we got by them, they had big Ekwu waiting inside," Driscoll said about the problems Hayes threw at them.
Ekwu was a true force on both ends, and when Chris Robinson hit a couple threes late in the half, Hayes went up double digits, 35-24 at the half.
St. Peter's was able to make a little run early in the 3rd quarter when Jamir Ferebee hit a floater over Ekwu, and then when Sanabria hit a three from the wing, it was 37-30, and it seemed the Eagles had a glimmer of hope, but Lods called a timeout, and gave his team the advice he felt they needed.
"I said not to panic, that they are a good team and we knew they would make a little run, but I said that if we got it back up to 11 or 12 that they would go away."
That is seemingly exactly what happened, but even though Cardinal Hayes was able to get it up to a 13 point lead after three, it wasn't until Jones hit a huge corner three ball early in the 3rd to push it to 51-37 that Lods started to feel comfortable with the lead.
"When Mustafa hit that three I felt it took the wind out of St. Peter's sails and said to them it's not your day," Lods said,
Ekwu was a massive force inside too, blocking shots, corralling defense rebounds left and right, and finishing from the FT line late, as he and his teammates got to celebrate at midcourt as the final buzzer sounded, grabbing Cardinal Hayes their first ever Archdiocese of New York title, 70-50 over St. Peter's.
Ekwu had 15 points and 16 rebounds to lead Hayes, while Newkirk had 15 and 8 assists as well. Jones had 13 points and 11 big boards, and Smith, the Cardinals unsung hero, also added 10 points.
The win, the title, and the revenge all played big roles in the win for Hayes, but it was also bigger than just a win for Newkirk, Smith, and Robinson. They won it for Hayes yes, but they also won it for their former school, Rice, which closed down after their freshman years there. This is the final class that will include Rice players as high schoolers, and Robinson said that Lods acknowledged that before the game to the three.
"In the locker room before the game, coach gave us a big speech saying we are the last class from Rice; saying that this was real important to us because all the big seniors before us at Rice, guys like Kemba Walker, Jermaine Sanders, Felipe Lopez, and Kenny Satterfield, all got this chip. So us being the last class, we pulled it out to close it out right," Robinson stated.
Newkirk added that it's a fitting end to the legacy of the famed school, adding that he did this for Cardinal Hayes, but he did this for Rice as well.
St. Peter's was led in defeat by Sanabria's 18 points, while Ferebee added 8 as well, and even though disappointed in the end result of the game, Driscoll knows there are still games ahead this season, and he hopes his team can do a bit better in the City playoffs than they did last year.
"Last year we ran into Christ the King in the quarterfinals," Driscoll said. "This year we get a bye to the quarterfinals where we will get either Molloy or Fordham Prep. If we can win that and get to the semifinals, and if we keep it close, who knows what can happen. I like this team and I hope we can keep it going."
Hayes though took home their first Archdiocese title, and they did it on Lods birthday no less. The coach, who turned 39, said that he never had a doubt, saying they couldn't loss on his birthday, but he wasn't so much happy about the win for himself, saying he was more relieved that anything else, but he was happy for his kids.
"We have won some big games over the years, but at the end I always feel like I'm giving a consolation speech," Lods said. So it's nice to give them a championship talk because the kids really deserve it."