Stepinac falls to Xaverian in Slam Dunk semis
By Josh Thomson
The Journal News
(Original publication: December 29, 2006)
WHITE PLAINS - Throughout the afternoon and evening yesterday, some County Center fans could be heard buzzing. Stepinac was an unlikely winner over Peekskill on Wednesday and White Plains beat Woodlands in yesterday's semifinals. The outcomes left the rivals one Stepinac win from renewing the crosstown rivalry in front of a packed County Center crowd.
For a while last night, the Crusaders gave themselves a chance to join the Tigers on the big stage, but they quickly lost it during a poor third quarter. Ultimately, the Clippers held off a late rally and won 64-52, meaning it'll be them - not Stepinac - who faces White Plains in tonight's championship game at 8.
"It's a big rivalry," said Stepinac point guard Tony Taylor, whose team meets Woodlands in the 4:30 p.m. third-place game. "It would've given us a chance to show people how good we are."
For the most part, Xaverian, the Crusaders' CHSAA rival, won because of its defense. The Clippers (6-1) had four players score in double figures, led by 14 from Jamie Blanchard, but more importantly they held Stepinac star Melquan Bolding in check, particularly in the second half.
Bolding, a 6-foot-4 guard who has orally committed to Louisville, scored 19 points on 9-of-22 shooting from the field against a strong man-to-man defense.
"I was very impressed with Xaverian's defense," Stepinac coach Tim Philp said. "Even if we got by the first guy, there was always a second guy there to step in."
For the second night, Bolding was overshadowed somewhat by Taylor. The 5-foot-9 junior scored 23 points and hit three 3-pointers - this after he had a career-high 32 on Wednesday against Peekskill.
Taylor hit all 18 of his free throws in the two games and left fans gasping in their seats with an array of jump shots and spinning drives to the basket.
"I just liked the atmosphere," Taylor said. "It's my first time playing here. Just the court and the people, it's nice."
Taylor and Bolding both did their best work in the second quarter and helped pull Stepinac to within 31-29 at halftime. But with Bolding struggling with his shot in the third quarter, Xaverian increased its lead to double digits and never trailed again.
The Crusaders cut the deficit to 59-52 with less than four minutes remaining and had possession of the ball, but they missed two shots and never had a chance to close the gap any further.
"We missed nine or 10 layups in the second half," Philp said. "And they were uncontested in the paint."
Afterward, Bolding had mixed feelings about the loss. He was disappointed Stepinac won't face White Plains but was satisfied with his team's overall play, knowing it had run into a superior defensive team.
"It's definitely disappointing," he said, "but it was great to beat a really good team like Peekskill (on Wednesday). I think we've showed everyone we're going against that we can play."
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