Stepinac won’t soon forget the last basketball game they played. But it’s beginning to feel like a lifetime ago.
“We all will remember March 11 for a long time,” Crusaders coach Pat Massaroni said on Thursday. “It’s a memory that will stick with all of us for a long time.”
That March 11 victory was a comeback win over Christ the King, earning Stepinac the CHSAA AA City Championship and a Catholic State crown, the program’s first title since 1960.
It also earned the Crusaders (25-5) a spot in this weekend’s New York State Federation Tournament of Champions at the Glens Falls Civic Center, beginning with Friday’s Class AA semifinal showdown with Long Island Lutheran, the NYSAIS champ.
“We took a few days off to regroup,” Massaroni said. “We focused on some skill work and did a lot of scrimmaging and game situations.”
As memorable as March 11 was for Stepinac, the program hopes these next two days write an even greater legacy for what’s already being regarded as the best team in school history.
The Crusaders must beat a Long Island Lutheran (22-2) squad they lost to 79-72 back on January 7 to reach Saturday’s Federation final. The winner will take on either NYSPHSAA champion Liverpool (25-0) or PSAL winner South Shore (20-8) back at the Glens Falls Civic Center on Saturday at 8 p.m.
Beating LuHi will be no easy task given the star power in its roster. The roster is loaded with major Division I recruits, led by Frankie Policelli, who torched Stepinac in the first meeting.
The 6-foot-8 senior connected on 8 of 11 from 3-point range and is one of the premier recruits in the state. In the past two weeks, he’s received scholarship offers from Maryland and Illinois.
Stepinac is focused on avenging that defeat and joining Christ the King and national power Monteverde (Florida) as the only teams to beat LuHi, which is ranked No. 1 in the state and Top 20 nationally.
“The kids and the staff enjoyed the City and State title last week — a week of celebration,” Massaroni said. “This week has been all focused on LuHi, a team we were tied with with three minutes to play. We feel that we didn’t play our best that day.”
“They are a different team. We are a different team. They are Top 20 in the country for a reason and it will be a great game.”
The Stepinac-Long Island Lutheran matchup is expected to draw considerable Division 1 college head and assistant coaches. The anticipated list includes Illinois, Maryland, California, UMass, George Washington, Iona, Dayton, Manhattan, Fordham, Niagara, Drexel, Robert Morris, Holy Cross, Colgate, Siena, Monmouth, Albany, Vermont and Quinnipiac.
Federation Tournament Scouting Report
Class AA Semifinal
Stepinac (25-5) vs. Long Island Lutheran (22-2)
When: Friday, March 23, 6 p.m.
Where: Glens Falls Civic Center
Players to Watch: Stepinac — Alan Griffin; R.J. Davis; A.J. Griffin; Xavier Walker; Joel Soriano. Long Island Lutheran — Tykei Greene, 6-3, Sr., G/F; Tyson Etienne, 6-1, Jr., PG; Donatas Kupsas, 6-8, Sr., F; Frankie Policelli, 6-8, Sr., F.
Scouting Report: Stepinac has been a team that’s locked in defensively in the postseason. But this, however, will be a considerably tougher challenge than anything the Crusaders have played so far. First and foremost, they must slow down Policelli, who had 28 points vs Stepinac (8 of 11 from 3-point range). Policelli has offers from Illinois, Maryland, Cincinnati, Temple and many others. Etienne’s offers include Cincinnati, UMass, Minnesota, Maryland and others; Greene has offers from Drexel, Tulane, Manhattan and others. Kupsas has offers from Hofstra, Weber State, Iona, Ole Miss and others.
KDJ’s Pick: Long Island Lutheran 69, Stepinac 67. Alan Griffin has taken his game to a completely different level in the postseason and sophomore R.J. Davis has made one big shot after another in the playoffs. But has the momentum the Crusaders played with in the CHSAA playoffs stalled with a two-week layoff? While LuHi hasn’t been on the court for a game in a month, this is a group assembled to win this title and it’s hard to imagine they won’t leave Glens Falls this weekend without it.
What’s next: The winner will face either South Shore or Liverpool of the Syracuse region in the Federation title game on Saturday night at 8 p.m. at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
All-Time Class AA Federation Champions
Year Champion Conf MVP
2017 Lincoln PSAL Donald Cannon-Flores
2016 Jefferson PSAL Shamorie Ponds
2015 Wings Academy PSAL Jessie Govan
2014 Christ the King CHSAA Andre Walker
2013 Christ the King CHSAA Jon Severe
2012 Boys & Girls PSAL Leroy Fludd
2011 Mount Vernon NYSPHSAA Jabarie Hinds
2010 Christ the King CHSAA Omar Calhoun
2009 Rice CHSAA Durand Scott
2008 Lincoln PSAL Lance Stephenson
2007 Lincoln PSAL Lance Stephenson
2006 Mount Vernon NYSPHSAA Jonathan Mitchell
2005 Niagara Falls NYSPHSAA Paul Harris
2004 Mount Vernon NYSPHSAA Shanty Robinson
2003 Lincoln PSAL Sebastian Telfair
2002 Rice CHSAA Chris Turner (Henninger)
2001 St. Raymond CHSAA Chris McCrae
2000 Mount Vernon NYSPHSAA Ben Gordon
1999 Rice CHSAA Kenny Satterfield
1998 Rice CHSAA Anthony Glover
1997 Long Island Lutheran NYSAIS Emeka Erege
1996 Rice CHSAA Anthony Glover
1995 Lincoln PSAL Stephon Marbury
1994 Rice CHSAA Felipe Lopez
1993 St. Raymond CHSAA Tyler Brown
1992 Bishop Loughlin CHSAA John Wallace
1991 Mount Vernon NYSPHSAA Rasul Salahuddin
1990 Grady PSAL Effram Whitehead
1989 Christ the King CHSAA Khalid Reeves
1988 Tolentine CHSAA Malik Sealy
1987 Our Savior Lutheran NYSAIS Arnold Bernard
1986 Binghamton NYSPHSAA King Rice
1985 All Hallows CHSAA Darryl Walker
1984 Truman PSAL Rod Strickland
1983 Bishop Loughlin CHSAA Russell Pierre (No. Babylon)
1982 Franklin PSAL Walter Berry
1981 Xaverian CHSAA Chris Mullin
1980 Holy Trinity CHSAA Matt Doherty
Overall Champions by Conference