For all of its success over the past seven years, the Christian Brothers Academy basketball team had never won a state title, let alone reached the finals.
That all ended Sunday in Glens Falls when the Brothers stormed past Section XI champion Half Hollow Hills West 71-53 for the Class AA championship.
We’re glad we’re the first guys to put that [state championship] banner up on the wall, said junior guard Galal Cancer.
CBA (24-1) continued its trend of double-digit playoff victories by using a balanced attack and a match-up zone defense to confuse and frustrate top-ranked Half Hollow Hills West (24-2).
`Everybody that got into the game contributed in their own way,` said CBA coach Dave Doemel.
The game had the potential to be a study in contrasts ` CBA with its backcourt of Cancer, Kameron Ritter and Max Weaver, and Half Hollow Hills West with New York State’s Mr. Basketball, senior forward Tobias Harris, and electric point guard Tavon Sledge.
But things fell apart for the Colts in the third quarter. Once the Brothers grabbed a 36-21 lead with a 9-0 run, Half Hollow Hills West players started flying around the court in a desperate attempt to force turnovers. Instead they were called for fouls, which proved to be a bad thing as CBA made 23 of its 27 free throws in the second half.
`We never joke about foul shots,` said Ritter, who was a perfect 9-for-9 from the charity stripe. `We always pick a prime moment in practice to work on our free throws because we know big games come down to foul shooting.`
Things got worse for Half Hollow Hills West when Harris fouled out late in the third quarter. Harris was called for his fourth personal foul while trying to force a turnover, and then picked up a technical foul with an emotional protest that included flopping on the court in disgust.
`I feel bad for West because they really had some tough calls [go against them], and they lost their composure a little bit,` said Doemel.
Sledge did what he could to pick up the slack for the Colts. The junior guard scored 24 of his game-high 33 points in the second half, but he couldn’t make up for the loss of Harris, who had eight points, seven rebounds and six blocked shots in the first half.
Sledge’s efforts also couldn’t offset the performances by Cancer, Ritter and Weaver. Cancer scored 19 points and pulled down 11 rebounds, while Ritter contributed 17 points and seven boards and Weaver added 15 points. Ritter was named the tournament’s most valuable player, while Cancer and Weaver were named to the all-tournament team.
`Nobody is worried about who steps up,` said Doemel. `In fact, we look for anybody to step up.`
An unlikely source gave CBA a lift in the second quarter when junior forward Christian Signor hit a three-pointer to give the Brothers a 10-7 lead. Weaver then drained a three-pointer ` the only one he made in six attempts from behind the arc ` to increase the lead to 13-7.
Half Hollow Hills West came back with a 6-0 run of its own to tie the game at 13, but it was the last time the Colts came within striking distance of the lead. CBA finished the second quarter on a 14-6 run to take a 27-19 halftime lead.
Cancer saw to it that Half Hollow Hills West wouldn’t challenge again. Cancer scored seven of CBA’s first nine points in the third quarter, including a three-pointer that put the Brothers ahead by 15 points and started the Colts’ emotional downward spiral.
`We just have a bunch of guys who do a lot of different things well,` said Cancer.
CBA’s season doesn’t end, yet. The Brothers move on to this weekend’s Federation Tournament at the Glens Falls Civic Center, where they meet New York City Catholic League champion Christ the King Saturday at 3:45 p.m.
`We’re going to have to work very hard in practice again,` said Weaver. `Good defense is always key because good defense leads to offense.`
CBA reached its first state final in school history with last Saturday’s 60-41 semifinal victory over defending Class AA champion Newburgh Free Academy.
Much like the Half Hollow Hills West game, the Brothers built on a decently-sized halftime lead to pull away from their opponent. CBA outscored Newburgh Free Academy (18-3) 36-23 in the second half, with 21 of those points coming in the fourth quarter.
Ritter netted 25 points, and Cancer added 13 points for the Brothers.
Patrick Johnson’s 10 points paced the Goldbacks.“
Associate editor/sports editor