As the final seconds of his high-school career wound down, Nay-Quan Bloomer buried his head inside his jersey, unable to watch as Archbishop Stepinac was on the verge of celebrating its first CHSAA Class A intersectional championship since 1993.
The Cardinal Hayes senior guard had willed his team to victory so many times this season, but in the final game of the year, the Cardinals came up short, losing to division rival Stepinac, 61-54, Friday night at Rose Hill Gym in The Bronx.
“I just broke down,” Bloomer said. “I asked God for everything, my parents were coming to every game. I’m here and we just didn’t finish.”
Hayes' Gabriel Carrion cannot bare to watch as Stepinac celebrate its CHSAA Class A crown.
Photos: CHSAA Class A championship game
Behind a huge second half by Bronx native Conroy Baltimore, Stepinac rallied from a 13-point deficit early in the third quarter and went on a decisive 22-3 run to capture the championship.
“We were playing great and all of a sudden the momentum changed with the crowd,” Bloomer said. “It went from our home to their home. Every little mistake we did, like not rebounding, not hustling for loose balls, missed free throws, cost us.”
Although they lost to Stepinac twice during the regular season, the Cardinals were the aggressors out of the gate, racing out to a 21-8 lead. The Crusaders went on a 12-0 run to get within 21-20, but Hayes closed the first half strong.
Chantz Delgado (14 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field) buried a pair of 3-pointers in the final 63 seconds, including one that beat the buzzer as Hayes went into halftime with a 32-21 lead.
In the Stepinac locker room, Baltimore sat stoically, thinking about how he could help his team rally.
“The answer was to play more physical," the 6-foot-5 junior forward said. “I did that and we did that as a team collectively.”
A Bloomer layup extended the Cardinals lead to 34-21 just 56 seconds into the second half, but things would change in a heartbeat for Hayes when sophomore forward Amadou Sidibe (six points, 11 rebounds) picked up his third foul less than a minute later and was sent to the bench.
“Baltimore smelled blood in the water,” Hayes coach Joe Lods said. “We checked a few sophomores in and out. I was just trying to get to the fourth quarter with the lead and Amadou sitting there. They played hard defense and we couldn’t make a shot.”
Cardinal Hayes (20-8) was outscored 15-3 and shot 1-of-15 from the field in the third quarter. A seemingly comfortable 13-point lead was a two-point deficit thanks to a Baltimore putback with 34 seconds left in the third quarter.
Lods tried everything to change his team’s fortunes, shuttling players in and out, looking for that magical combination that would click.
But none would.
“I was just watching the clock, at that point just trying to stave off disaster,” he said. “I was just trying to catch lightning in a bottle for two minutes.”
Stepinac (18-10) wasn’t done with its onslaught. By the time the smoke cleared, the Crusaders' run was 22-3 and they led 43-37 on a foul line jumper by James Chillemi (16 points).
“The fact we don’t have a point guard really hurt us in the third quarter because we couldn’t get into any offense,” Lods said “We totally lost our composure, we didn’t have any settling influence the whole game.”
It was believed at the start of the season the Class A title would remain in Westchester County, but no one expected the championship plaque to reside in White Plains. Defending champion Iona Prep brought back everyone, but the Gaels were upset in the quarterfinals by Xavier. Mount St. Michael was also upset by St. Joseph by the Sea, opening the door for Baltimore and Stepinac.
“I love (the seniors) so much and they work hard, so hard, I wasn’t letting that happen to them,” Baltimore said. “We weren’t losing this game.”