ALBANY, NY - Saturday's NYS Federation Class 'A' championship game between the Long Island Lutheran Crusaders (29-4) and the St. Mary's Gaels (29-1) was the perfect storm of events for a variety of reasons.
During the regular season the Gaels beat them in their own house adding the Crusaders to their then undefeated record. A lackluster start by Lutheran seemed signal Déjà vu all over again but a second half Crusaders run would stop the hard charging Gaels cold en route to a convincing 78-51 and a host of championship hardware
In the first half, the Gaels could do no wrong as senior point guard Dante Agnew put up 13 points and teammate Charles McCann added 10 points most off offensive rebounds. Late in the half, the Crusaders were up by as many as 9 points and a visible perturbed Coach John Buck laced into his team.
The Gaels appeared to all but prophesize a Class A championship when they won the NYSCHSAA championship in early March and had tee-shirts printed up with 30-0in anticipation of winning Federation Chip to remain undefeated. At the time, they were 28-0. St. Mary's head coach Bill Harkins said, "The gentleman who made the shirts put the wrong record on the back and never consulted with me."
LuHi point guard Mike Florin, however, said that the tee-shirt debacle as well as the loss to the Gaels in their own house fueled the Crusaders, a team who the day before made an about face in the third quarter to defeat Jamesville-DeWitt.
Even though the Gaels seemed to have the momentum, on paper the game was still close. With the first half winding down and St. Mary's up by six, Florin would drain an NBA range three and hold his hand in the follow through position for what seemed like an eternity. That one stoke cut the lead in half and seemed to turn the tide. "We had a little momentum going into the [second] half," said Florin.
The senior point guard said that during the half, the Crusaders made an assessment. "At halftime they were really killing us on the boards and we knew we had to make an adjustment and have five guys rebounding and stop them in transition and that's what we did," he said.
Florin said that fueled by the knowledge that for the senior this would be their last opportunity they did what they had to do. "We had to get. We had to get," he said.
Early in the second half, Florin would swish another three and Brandon Alford would once again come up big from the perimeter as he did against Jamesville. In addition, the Gaels who were red hot in the first half, shooting 53% decreased to a dismal 22% in the second half.
To prevent the Gaels from getting transition points, Yacoubou said, "We had to pack in [the lane] to prevent them from getting lay-ups."
The result was a 17-0 run that left St. Mary's down 46-35 with 2:55 left in the third. Lewis would finally end the drought for the Gaels but the damage was done.
Up 52-42 at the half K.J. Lee, the lone underclassmen, would hit the 3-ball that would extend LuHi's lead to 13 points. McCann tried to spark his team but an emphatic dunk by Jordan Allen would ignite his Lutheran teammate even more. St. Mary's missed on four opportunities to score in the paint as LuHi defended well and with 5:41 left to play LuHi's lead began to swell and shortly thereafter Chavaughn Lewis, the Gaels struggling go-to-guy fouled out. Soon after Agnew also fouled out as the lead grew to 20. With 1:43 remaining, Coach Harkins subbed out his remaining starters, signaling the end of their undefeated season.
Achraf Yacoubou and Florin both scored 18 points for L.I. Lutheran with Alford adding 11 points. Agnew paced St. Mary's with 15 points followed by McCann with 14 points and 11 rebounds and Lewis with 10 points.
Before the game, when asked if playing St. Mary's was the end of the perfect story, Coach Buck responded, if we win it is. After the game, Coach Buck said, "Now it's a perfect story.