SOUTH HUNTINGTON, NY - Tuesday's game between St. Anthony's and St. Mary's was a rematch from last year's NSCHSAA title game, won by the Friars, and revenge did play a role in this one as all the Gaels players admitted that this game did mean a little more based off of last year's ending.
If revenge was what they wanted, revenge was what they got, as they stormed back in the 2nd half to knock off St. Anthony's in comeback fashion, 58-56.
While the game was important to the St. Mary's girls, their coach Tom Flynn, wanted this game over with, in part because he knew that to move on to what they want to accomplish this season, they would need to move on from last year.
"We had to get this game out of the way. This game was staring them in the face for so long, we played a bunch of good teams so far this season but this is St. Anthony's vs. St. Mary's and to get this game under our belts again was going to be important," Flynn said.
Gaels star junior guard Mei-Lyn Bautista echoed the coaches thoughts of wanting to move on, but for her it was difficult because of the title game loss, and this being the first time they have seen the Friars on the court since that day, made this game mean a little more in her eyes.
"We had that bad taste in our mouth, so it gave us the motivation to win it more," Bautista said.
It started out pretty good for St. Anthony's though. Senior Chastity Taylor had it working in the early going scoring 8 points in the opening quarter from all over the court. Gaels forward, junior Jordan Agustus, was the bright spot for St. Mary's, but after 7 first quarter points for her, she was saddled with her 3rd foul early in the 2nd. Something she said frustrated her a bit afterward, but she remained confident.
"It was hard, but I trusted my team and knew that they would do what they had to do to keep us in the game," Agustus said about having to sit for the entire 2nd quarter.
With Agustus on the bench. St. Anthony's took control. Taylor knocked down another three from the left wing, and Charise Wilson scored 5 straight points during a 10-2 Friars run. They took a lead as big as 10 late in the 2nd quarter, but Charlotte Renker finished the quarter strong for St. Mary's to help them curb the deficit to just 35-28 at the half.
Fouls played a big key for both teams at the half. 5 players in total, 3 from St. Mary's, and 2 from St. Anthony's were hit with 3 first half fouls that changed the complexion of the opening 16 minutes, something Friars coach Ken Parham explained perfectly.
"It was like you have some tools in your shed, but you're not allowed to use them. I mean you can't cut the grass without a lawnmower. That really is how it felt," Parham said about the restrictions of having girls have to sit due to fouls.
The 3rd quarter saw all the girls who were on the bench with foul issues, come back in, including Agustus, who said the foul troubles actually ended up motivating her.
"I had something to prove. I wanted to prove that 3 fouls in the 1st half wasn't going to end my game, and that I would make a difference in this game still," Agustus said.
Those words proved very true, but what was also true, was the difference that Renker started to make in the 3rd quarter. She finished off a nice feed from Agustus, and then on a putback of a Bautista miss. The junior forward had 8 points in the 3rd, including the bucket that tied the game at 37 with 4:10 to go in the 3rd quarter, and Parham admitted that too much attention to Agustus, can sometimes end up being a bad thing.
"Jordan is very good, so she needs attention, but when you give her too much it gets others involved, and Renker ended up really hurting us in that 3rd quarter," Parham said.
The Friars did come back and take a 2 point lead going to the 4th, but Agustus scored the last 4 points of the 3rd quarter, and she then scored the first 5 for the Gaels of the 4th, including a spin inside to give St. Mary's their first lead since the 1st quarter with 5:02 to play, going up 46-45.
St. Mary's opened the lead to 5 at 53-48 with 2:51 to go, but they didn't put the hammer down, they allowed Wilson to get into the lane and finish on back to back occasions, something that Flynn says is too common from his team this season.
"We get in a habit to where we just stave the team off and don't put them away. We stopped playing a bit late in the 4th which upset me. We need to play with more passion and effort to the very end," Flynn said.
He was spot on as St. Anthony's went on an 8-0 run to retake the lead at 54-53 with 58 seconds to go, but at that point, it became Bautista time.
The junior guard converted on a floater in the lane to give St. Mary's back the lead by one. Wilson then missed on a driving layup, and a scrum on the floor ensued, but Gaels guard Jasmine Bryant got on top of the ball and wisely called timeout with 16.2 to go to give them back the ball.
Off the inbounds, Bautista got the ball and was fouled. She was struggling from the foul line according to Flynn, but he made her do something to calm her down when the team needed her most.
"I told her, when you get the line, look at me, and I'll say pack it up, because that means we are going home. She did that and she made big FT's late for us," Flynn said.
She ended up making 3 of 4 late, and the Gaels were up by 2 in the closing seconds. St. Anthony's had the ball, but a pass inside to Kalifa Davy went through her hands, and shortly after time expired, and the Gaels players ran on the court in celebration after grabbing the 58-56 win.
Agustus had a game high 18 points for St. Mary's in the win. Renker added 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Bautista had 12 points and 6 assists.
Wilson paced the Friars with 16 points in the defeat, while Taylor chipped in 15, though 14 of those came in the 1st half.
The celebration was on in the St. Mary's gym, and Bautista, who struggled for a large part of the game, was extremely thankful for her teammates trust in her afterwards.
"I was struggling all game, but I kept trying. My teammates were encouraging me, the coaches were encouraging me, so when I hit the FT's I felt so good to know I played a part in getting this win," Bautista said.
The win was bigger than just a win, because of what the girls say it does for them the rest of the way.
"This really puts a jump start to our season. We have 16 more games to get through, and this just gives us so much momentum going forward," Renker added.
The ghosts of last season's loss to the Friars are now put to bed, and this win according to Renker helped do that, but it didn't just do that, it did so much more.
"This was like a team bonding experience. To get this win working together, it really is very special."