Varsity Basketball advances to CHSAA Finals

Posted Wednesday, March 03, 2010 by

Stepinac comeback win over Xavier sends them to the CHSAA finals

Posted Wednesday, March 03, 2010 by


Stepinac rallies past Xavier to reach final



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NEW YORK — Rich Whitten didn't see the clock expire when he slammed the basketball down in joy. He may not have heard the horn either. The thundering feet pouring onto center court drowned it out. Stepinac got two Conroy Baltimore free throws and one defensive stop to complete a monumental comeback and send Crusaders fans streaming out of the bleachers. They threw their arms around players and screamed in disbelief into the faces of Kadeem Francis, Josh Powell, Thomas Decker. A massive pile of players and fans sprouted on Cardinal Spellman's center court

"Oh my god, I can't explain it it feels so good," Francis said. "I thought it was over when we were down."

The 57-56 victory in a CHSAA A Division semifinal was unbelievable not only because Stepinac trailed Xavier by nine with four minutes to play, but because Xavier seemed too disciplined to allow any sustained run. The Crusaders had tried a few earlier surges, only to be rebuffed by their own sloppiness or Xavier's crisp offense.

They will face Cardinal Hayes, a team they beat twice during the season, in the A Division championship Friday at 8 p.m. at Fordham. The last time they made the title game was 1994. Stepinac coach Tim Philp said he might have experienced this kind of comeback before. Just not with the varsity.

"Probably when I coached in grammar school, or when I coached the freshman team here at Stepinac. Just a great comeback. An awesome game, awesome game."

Baltimore led all scorers with 20, and added nine rebounds and four blocks. The 6-foot-5 junior center shot 12 of 13 from the free-throw line, including 6 of 6 in the fourth.

Trailing 52-43 with 4:10 left, Stepinac (17-10) began its climb. Baltimore hit a pair of foul shots, Whitten made a driving layup, Decker hit a pair of foul shots, then Baltimore did the same. Decker's pull-up jumper rolled in to make it 55-53 with 1:07 left. After Xavier's Euroy Smith hit 1 of 2, Josh Powell laid in a missed shot to make it 56-55 with 36 seconds on the clock. Xavier (16-9) missed a pair of free throws, giving Stepinac its chance. The ball was fed to Baltimore in the post. He was fouled with 20 seconds left and sunk the first. Xavier called time out to ice him but he swished the second anyway.

"Just got to make these two free throws," he said to himself. "That was it. After I hit those two I knew we would get a defensive stop and win the game."

Baltimore sank six free throws in the last 40 seconds of their quarterfinal against Monsignor McClancy to ice that win. "I wouldn't want anybody else at the line," said Valhalla resident Francis, who scored 14.

A swarming defense on Xavier's last possession, the kind that had held the Knights to four points over that last four minutes, forced a bad look. Whitten got the rebound and the celebration began.

Second chances also made a huge difference. In the first half, during which Stepinac blew a 14-8 lead, it was one shot and out. In the fourth quarter they outrebounded Xavier 15-4.

"I told them, go home, enjoy it for about five minutes, and then forget about it," Philp said.

Easier said than done after a win like this.