Tom Konchalski emerged from a stairwell in the entry corridor of the Rose Hill Gym at Fordham University late Sunday afternoon, the lingering sounds of Stepinac’s celebration on the court echoing in the background.
“First time since 1960,” marveled Konchalski, the Tri-State area’s most respected basketball talent evaluator and historian. “It’s incredible.”
It takes a lot in basketball to astound Konchalski’sat this point of his career. But on Sunday, Stepinac did it.
The Crusaders took over the city, knocking off Christ the King 74-65 in the CHSAA AA Championship at Fordham Unversity, ending a 58-year drought of non-borough teams capturing the most coveted title in the state.
“A lot of people think Westchester is soft,” Stepinac sophomore R.J. Davis said. “To come out here and win the city championship, it puts Westchester on the map. People think Bronx and Brooklyn. But we proved to be the best.”
— Chris Caron (@ChrisCaronHS) March 11, 2018
Alan Griffin earned MVP honors after a commanding effort on both ends of the floor, posting 20 points, eight rebounds and three blocks despite fighting all game inside with Christ the King’s 7-foot tandem of Kofi Cockburn and Moussa Cisse.
But Stepinac’s depth and balance proved to be took much of the Royals to contend with Freshman Adrian Griffin recorded 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists while Xavier Wilson contributed 13 points and eight boards.
And in claiming all the hardware this postseason, Stepinac took down one heavyweight after another.
The Crusaders (25-5) beat Mount St. Michael, Iona Prep and Cardinal Hayes to claim the Archdiocesan title. They then defeated St. Raymond, Archbishop Molloy and Christ the King to win the city.
Sunday started slow for Stepinac as Davis struggled to find his own rhythm. His only field goal of the half, though, was probably the biggest shot of the game. Davis pulled up and stuck a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the second quarter to pull Stepinac within two points after getting outplayed for most of the half.
“In six playoff games, he’s done that three times,” Stepinac coach Pat Massaroni said. “It was huge. It uplifted us in the locker room. But there was a simple message in the locker room: We were down two, we played pretty poorly and we had 16 minutes to go. If we defended, we’d be in good shape.”
Stepinac (25-5) went from down seven in the minute of the second quarter to up 12 entering the fourth behind an inspired defensive effort.
Christ the King managed just 10 points in the third quarter, shooting 3 of 17 from the field (17.6%). The Royals did grab 21 offensive rebounds in the game thank to their 7-foot duo. But they only turned it into 14 second-chance points.
Joel Soriano, the Crusaders’ 6-foot-10 center, battled inside all game and Eddie Sanchez came off the bench and contributed a buzzer-beating basket to end the first quarter and a clutch 3-pointer in the third to blow the game open.
Cockburn had 16 points and 15 rebounds and Cisse added 10 points, 11 rebounds and 12 blocked shots. But the guards for Christ the King couldn’t match the vaunted backcourt of Stepinac.
“I think when you have R.J. and Alan, you’re not going to find a better backcourt in the state,” Massaroni said. “I really believe that.”
Stepinac will get its chance to prove in two weeks in Glens Falls. The Crusaders will make their first trip to Glens Falls for the Federation Tournament on March 23. They’ll take on Long Island Lutheran in the semifinals.
The other semifinal will pit the PSAL champion and the NYSPHSAA — which could be Mount Vernon if the Knights are able to win a second straight Class AA crown this weekend in Binghamton.