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Lohud .com Stepinac wins the CHSAA A Championship

Posted Saturday, March 06, 2010 by LOHUD>COM
 

Stepinac surges to 'A' crown

 

JOSH THOMSON • JTHOMSON@LOHUD.COM • MARCH 6, 2010

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NEW YORK — One possession into the third quarter, Stepinac faced a growing deficit that was bordering on insurmountable. The Crusaders, in the program's biggest game in 17 years, were down 13 points and fading.


 

At halftime, coach Tim Philp had stated the obvious: We need to believe. Stepinac had rallied from a double-digit deficit in the second half before, as recently as Tuesday, as a matter of fact. So why not do it again?

"We knew we had been down in games before," senior Kadeem Francis said. "We came back to win last game, so we knew we could come back in this game, too. We just never stopped fighting."

By the end of the third quarter, the Crusaders had erased every point and began building a lead of their own. They never relented during a memorable second-half performance that staved off Cardinal Hayes 61-54 to win the CHSAA "A" intersectional championship game Friday night at Fordham University — the first championship for the program since 1993.

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After a tough first half against Hayes' long front line, junior Conroy Baltimore proved the paint at Rose Hill Gym was his to roam. The 6-foot-5 force produced 15 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocked shots, including five during a game-changing third quarter.

The Crusaders (18-10) advanced to the Catholic schools state tournament where they will meet either Nichols of Buffalo or St. Mary's of Long Island next weekend for a spot in the Federation tournament later this month.

"We just stepped up our game physically," Baltimore said of Stepinac's 40-22 second-half edge. "In the first half they were beating us to offensive and defensive rebounds. We changed that in the second half and that was a big difference."

Junior guard James Chillemi led Stepinac with 16 points. He made 5 of 6 free throws in the final minute.

 

The Crusaders had pushed ahead comfortably by then, thanks to a defense anchored by Baltimore. In front of him, the guards chased Hayes senior star Nay-Quan Bloomer, who was held to 14 points after burning Stepinac for 27 in the second of two meetings between the league rivals this season.Stepinac surges to 'A' crown

 

JOSH THOMSON • JTHOMSON@LOHUD.COM • MARCH 6, 2010

 
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The Crusaders' defense held the Cardinals (20-8) to three points in the third quarter.


 

"Our on-the-ball pressure — guys like Richie (Whitten), Josh (Powell) and James (Chillemi) — was awesome," Philp said.

While the Crusaders locked down and Baltimore erased layups, their offense surged. Chillemi hit two 3-pointers in the third quarter to highlight a 16-1 run in the final 5:18 of the period. Finally, on the second of back-to-back transition baskets by Francis, Stepinac grabbed its first lead of the game, 37-35, with 30 seconds to play in the third.

"That was huge right there," Francis said. "That gave us a lot of confidence going into the fourthquarter."

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The Crusaders never trailed again, and are now left to celebrate a win no one considered possible two weeks ago when league rivals Iona Prep, the defending champ, and Mount St. Michael were considered strong favorites for a championship-game rematch.

Those teams were upset in the quarterfinals. When the gate swung open, Stepinac stepped through and slammed the door behind it.

"When we heard that Mount and Iona had lost, we knew that the whole thing was wide open for us and we took advantage," Baltimore said, hopping up and down in delight. "We came in and did what we had to do. We won a championship.

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