HEMPSTEAD, NY - - There was a lot on the line on Tuesday at Hofstra University.
The Holy Trinity Titans hadn't won a Nassau/Suffolk CHSAA Championship in the lifetime of the players while St. Mary's was not expected to even be a championship team since the transfers of Jessie Govan and Devonte Green, two of their star players.
The Titans, a team that usually lives and dies by their perimeter game, shot poorly all evening but instead of dying, adapted and clawed their way to a 57-55 win over a determined St. Mary's.
"We didn't play a perfect offensive game. [We] didn't make a ton of shots. Didn't make a ton of threes but we were really, really tough on the defensive end of the floor," said Holy Trinity Head Coach Joe Conefry.
Holy Trinity came out with energy as 6'0" senior Peter Alkins (13 points) drained a three and caused turnovers with their swarming defense. A putback by 6'11" freshman center Nicolas Richards (16 points) briefly quieted the raucous Titans crowd before 6'2" junior guard Jimmy Golaszewski (22 points & 13 rebounds) drove in for two more revving them back up again.
The game tried to become a shoot out early and with 3:20 Holy Trinity held onto a slim 7-6 lead. Stopping Richards in the paint became an overwhelming task for the Titans made easier by his inability to hit free-throws.
The anticipated shoot out was stifled as both teams had miserable field goal percentages from then on in the open quarter. The score froze at 7-6 going into the second quarter.
6'1" junior Patrick Jackson (15 points) drove coast-to-coast to score for St. Mary's but the Titan's responded as 6'3" senior Brandon Thomson (9 points) and 6'0" junior Jack Sixsmith (8 points) knocked down jumpers. The Titans were now up 13-8.
6'6" freshman Chris Coalman (11 points) began to go to work inside and singlehandedly pulled the Gaels to within a point and with 5:32 a Jackson jumper gave St. Mary's their first lead, 15-13. Alkins soon knotted the game at 15.
Alkins also un-knotted the score with a trifecta from the corner with 3:08 and extended the Titan's lead as he drew a foul with his aggressive drives to the rim. Down 20-15 with 1:51, Jackson finally put points on the board for St. Mary's but the Titans again had an answer.
Looking like a well oiled machine, the Titans took command of the game on both ends of the court and increased their lead to eight but with under a 30 seconds, 6'4" senior Stephen Milhaven (11 points) seemed to signal what may coming from St. Mary's in the third quarter. The senior confidently shifted momentum, banking a half court heave at the buzzer and walking boldly to the locker room with his teammates in tow.
St. Mary's emerged from the locker room with seconds to spare, down 25-20 to start the third. Oozing confidence, Milhaven scored the first points of the quarter with the look of determination still on his face. With 5:32, the Gaels were down 29-25 but the Titans managed to weather St. Mary's initial charge.
Golaszewski scored an up and under, increasing Holy Trinity's lead to six points off a defensive lapse in the Gaels zone but St. Mary's had resolve. With 3:00 left to play in the third, they would cut their deficit down to 33-31. The Titans would push back but an and-1 dunk by Richards would close the gap to 1 point with 2:15.
Richards, a promising freshman, became a defensive demon in the paint, forcing the Titans to shoot further and further out which they did. With 18 seconds left in the quarter, Richards got an offensive rebound and scored another and-1 to cut the lead to one once again but Sixsmith would score at the buzzer giving the Titans a 42-39 lead to start the fourth.
The Titans would increase their lead to seven as Thomson drove to the hole. Richards continued to be a problem in the paint and the Titans shooters began to fall short again. Milhaven eventually tied the game at 49 with 4:21 left in regulation.
The Titans pulled ahead but the Gaels tied the game once again. After faltering from the perimeter, 5'11" junior PG Mike Farella (2 points) scored on a drive giving the Titans a 53-51 lead with 2:41.
1:11 remained in regulation and Holy Trinity maintained a 55-53 edge. St. Mary's continued to tie but was unable to pull ahead.
After an errant shot by Jackson, St. Mary's began to foul and eventually put Thomson on the line with 27.2 seconds. He would hit both freethrows. On the following possession, Milhaven would get stripped by Alkins and draw a foul. With 15.5 the Titan led 57-53. The Gaels continued to foul and Holy Trinity's poor foul shooting let St. Mary's get within two points.
6.1 ticks were left in regulation and Milhaven had the rock. St. Mary's was down by two and the senior had the perfect set-up for a storybook win but a trip and fall would prevent that from happening. The Titan's would win the NSCHSAA Championship just like that.
"This is real big," said Golaszewski, the Tournament MVP. "This is our first championship in twenty-two years. We lost last year so it makes it even better."
Holy Trinity will play the winner of the Buffalo region in a CHSAA state semifinal on Tuesday.