After catching the Woodlands-Port Chester game at Port Chester High School, I raced over to Stepinac to see the Crusaders take on City power St. Raymond in the last leg of a tripleheader between the schools.
What was built up as a big night for Stepinac no matter the outcome nearly turned into one of the best wins in recent program history. St. Ray’s prevailed 63-55 the game was either neck-and-neck or Stepinac led for the better part of three quarters.
Despite being hampered with foul trouble, the Crusaders went up 28-27 at halftime and built that lead to as many as 11 points, 42-31, in the third quarter behind tenacious play from senior guard James Chillemi and another tremendous performance from senior Conroy Baltimore. But ultimately St. Ray’s was too much. The Ravens used their size and defensive proficiency to outscore Stepinac by 13 in the fourth quarter. Six-foot-7 junior Daniel Dingle, a big-time Division I prospect, delivered a big fourth quarter, scoring nine of his 19 points in the period.
Dingle, along with 6-foot-5 junior Nkeruwem Okoro and 6-foot-6 junior Marquis Underwood were eventually too much for the Crusaders, who were overmatched up front. They were forced to send Baltimore to the glass to contend with three big bodies basically one-on-three and the Lehigh-bound star played a transcendent third quarter.
He had been whistled for three fouls and missed eight minutes of the first half, but he responded once freed from the bench in the third quarter. Baltimore wracked up eight points and seven rebounds in the first 3:55 of the third and finished the game with 17 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks. That effort and back to back hoops by Chillemi (18 points) gave Stepinac its 42-31 lead.
But St. Ray’s finished the third on an 8-2 run. That contined with a 12-3 run to start the fourth, making it a 20-5 spurt that Stepinac never recovered from. A hoop from Okoro gave St. Ray’s a 48-47 lead with 5:32 to play and the Crusaders were never any closer.
“We definitely had a chance,” said coach Tim Philp, whose team is the defending A division champ. “We just had a few defensive breakdowns in the fourth quarter and we missed some open shots.”
Stepinac forced a number of shots in the fourth quarter. When they didn’t, the Crusaders struggled to protect the ball and rebound, giving life to a St. Ray’s team that misfired from the field and the stripe (17 of 36 on FTs).
Julian Wright scored 10 points, all in the first half for Stepinac. The young backcourt of sophomore Josh James and freshman Naim Thomas played big minutes and were impressive, combining for just two of their team’s 15 turnovers.
“We were close,” Baltimore said. “If we made a couple more 3’s or
grabbed a couple more rebounds in the fourth quarter we probably would have won.”
Because the game ended late, the box score didn’t make it in the paper. If you want to check it out, you can find it by clicking here.