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Stepinac takes CHSAA AA title

Alan Griffin had 20 points and 8 rebounds and Adrian Griffin Jr had 19 and 7, as Archbishop Stepinac overcame a nine point second quarter deficit, taking control in the second half to top Christ the King 74-65 in the CHSAA AA final at Fordham University on Sunday.

CTK's offense sputtered after the Crusaders switched from a man-to-man to a zone defense in the second quarter, resulting in droughts that allowed Stepinac to rack up unanswered points during crucial stretches in the second half.

The Royals were sharp against the Crusaders' man-to-man defense early, getting points from Tyson Walker, Ryan Myers, Kofi Cockburn and Moussa Cisse and shooting 8-13 (61.5%) from the floor during the opening frame. Stepinac got 6 points from Griffin during the first quarter, but still trailed 17-13.

It looked as if Christ the King was going to pull away during the second quarter. Tavin Pierre-Phillip's reverse double-clutch put the Royals ahead 23-17, a jumper by Walker made it 25-17 and Cockburn's 3-point play off a putback gave CTK its largest lead of the game at 28-19 with 2:22 left in the half.

With the help of the zone, the Crusaders closed the quarter on a 9-2 run, with an RJ Davis 3-pointer just ahead of the half making it just a two point game at 30-28 at the break. After shooting 61.5% from the floor in the opening quarter, Christ the King was just 4-19 (21.5%) in the second, with Joel Soriano and Xavier Wilson holding their own against Cockburn and Cisse in the paint.

Myers scored the first points of the second half, a 3-pointer that put Christ the King ahead 33-28, but Stepinac answered with a 9-0 run that started with a 3-point play by Davis and ended with a jumper by Griffin Jr, giving the Crusaders a 37-33 lead and prompting a CTK timeout with 5:22 left in the third.

Griffin's one-handed slam brought the crowd to its feet and made it 11 unanswered for Stepinac, and his jumper with 3:40 left in the frame gave the Crusaders a seven point lead at 41-34.

A dunk by Cockburn brought Christ the King back within three at 41-38, but the Royals went a woeful 3-17 from the floor in the quarter (17.6%), and Stepinac took advantage by rattling off another eight straight, taking a 49-38 lead on a 3-pointer by Eddie Sanchez and triggering another timeout by Joe Arbitello.   

After Christ the King fell behind 52-40 at the end of the third, things looked like they would get interesting midway through the fourth. After Soriano and Griffin both picked up their fourth personals, Christ the King's press forced a turnover that led to a Myers layup, trimming the margin to 60-54 with 3:37 remaining.

Once again the Crusaders called timeout to adjust, and they handled the press the rest of the way, with a Davis runner putting Stepinac back in front 62-54 and a dunk by Wilson making it 66-54. Stepinac Coach Pat Massaroni cleared his bench in the final minute.

Wilson finished with 13 points and 8 rebounds, while Davis had 12 points and 6 assists for Stepinac.

Cockburn scored 16 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, while Myers scored 16 and McPherson 14 for Christ the King. Cisse finished with a triple double for the Royals, scoring 10 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking an eye-popping 12 shots.

The win gave Stepinac its first CHSAA title since 1960, well before Christ the King became a household name in high school basketball.

The Crusaders will face Long Island Lutheran in the New York State Federation tournament semifinal in Glens Falls on March 23rd. Stepinac fell to LuHi at the Apparel Challenge on January 7th, a game played on Christ the King's home court. LuHi is currently the top-ranked team in New York State.

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