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Catholic Primary finals all set!

Rohan Parks and the Our Lady’s Blue Flames are probably wondering what they have to do to win a championship in the Catholic Primary Schools Basketball League.

They came up short in the finals the past two years, but after going into the playoffs as the pennant-winners this year, many figured this was their year to win it all. Well as it turned out, the Sts. Francis/Joseph Shockers had other plans as they took advantage of their size down low and pulled away from the Blue Flames in the final quarter yesterday. The Shockers hit a number of key free shots down the stretch to seal a major upset, 26-17, in the sudden death playoff game. They’ll now move on to the best-of-three championship series where they’ll meet the defending champions, St. Cecilia’s Strikers, waiting on them. On the strength of a 13-1 scoring run to end the game, the defending champions Strikers blew past the Xavier’s Giants, 32-19, in the other sudden death playoff game yesterday. Game One of the championship series is set for tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 p.m. at Loyola Hall on Gladstone Road.

“It feels great. I told my guys from day one that if we play defense and execute down the stretch we would be in the finals,” said Shockers’ Head Coach Devon Johnson. “Our Lady’s beat us twice this year but I told the guys that this is where it matters and they came through. From not winning a game last year to making the finals this year, it’s a sweet feeling. Hopefully, we could complete the feeling and win a championship,”he added.

The Shockers last made the finals in 2005 when they won it all, sweeping the Giants. The Blue Flames were looking to make the championship series for the third straight year and win their first title since the league’s inaugural year in the late nineties.

“It’s disappointing. We just played a little timid today and definitely, we didn’t deserve to win,” said Blue Flames’ Head Coach Rohan Parks. “We really thought that we would be going to the finals for the third straight year, but somehow this championship keeps avoiding us. For some reason, we were tight facing the zone defense. That worked against us today, but we’ll come back next year and give it another shot.”

Another factor which sunk the Blue Flames yesterday was free shots. They only hit three of 10 for the game, while the much bigger Shockers went 11-for-18 from the charity stripe. They dominated the offensive and defensive boards, went up strong in the lane and drew fouls to give themselves opportunities at the free throw line where they were successful for the most part. The Blue Flames, on the other hand, picked a bad time to have one of their worst performances of the year, especially from the free throw line.

“Well if you can’t hit free shots, you can’t win a basketball game and that is what happened to us today. It’s unfortunate but we’ll find a way to bounce back from this,” said Parks. “Every year, we lack height. We have some skillful guards but no height and that has been our problem every year,” he added.

Ashanti Johnson paced the Shockers with a game-high 11 points yesterday. Jared Delancey added seven and John Nixon powered in five. Enrique Forbes led the Blue Flames with eight points and Luccendre Paul added six. The Shockers led by just one point at the end of three quarters, 17-16, but dominated down low in the fourth quarter and to take control of the game. They are very confident going into the championship series.

“Our big men rebounded the ball very well today, they protected the ball and they made some key baskets down the stretch. If they come out and play that way against St. Cecilia’s, I think that we stand a very good chance of winning the championship. We match up very well with St. Cecilia’s, so if we play big, we’ll win,” said Shockers’ coach Johnson.

The defending champions feel that it is their title to win though. They feel that if they come out and do the things that they are supposed to do, it will be them who will be celebrating a championship and not the Shockers. The Strikers and Shockers split their two regular season games this year.

“We’re very confident. We wanted to have the opportunity to win another championship so we knew we needed to come out here and play hard today, and once we do the same thing against St. Francis, we’ll win again,” said Strikers’ guard Khobe Mackey. “It should be a good series but I think we’ll come out on top.”

Strikers’ Head Coach Leo Delaney was a little more reserved regarding their chances of repeating as champions.

“Anything can happen because the teams are so evenly matched this year,” said Delaney. “I think the team which wants it more will take it. You have to have heart and the team which proves that they have heart, will win,” he added.

The Strikers really pulled away from the Giants in the final three minutes yesterday evening. Giants’ big man Tyreik Tynes picked up his third foul and was taken out of the game by one of the referees, and the Strikers took advantage of his absence and closed the game on a 13-1 scoring run. The official ruled that Tynes threw an elbow and consequently sent him to the bench. By the time that he re-entered the game, it was too late for the Giants.

“That really hurt me right there,” said Giants’ Head Coach Nelson Joseph. “I guess the referees just wanted to calm him down. I can’t question the referees but that decision hurt us a lot. They were able to go on a run after that and we couldn’t recover. Really, we just let the game get away from us in the last 2:30 though. Up until that point we were playing pretty good but we just fell apart. They got a lot of fast break points on us and some of our guys were just getting mixed up on defense. Turnovers down the stretch played a major factor. I have to give credit to St. Cecilia’s but we definitely weren’t at our best today, especially down the stretch,” he added.

The Strikers were led by Seth Fountain, with nine points yesterday. Mackey contributed eight and Michael Cartwright added four. The Giants were led by Dante Cooper with five points. Tynes added four and Zion Bannister dropped in three. The Giants never led in the game yesterday. They trailed 10-5 after the first quarter, fell behind 14-12 at the half, and trailed 19-16 after three quarters. They got within a point, 19-18, in the fourth before the Strikers closed the game, on that killer 13-1 run.

“This team here is basically a new team. We were looking at probably next year, but these guys right here proved that they wanted to defend their title and they weren’t going to let anyone stand in their way,” said Strikers’ Head Coach Leo Delaney. “These guys picked it up during the second half of the regular season and they just didn’t let up. I’m very proud of them right now.”

As for the Giants, Head Coach Joseph is optimistic about their chances next year.

“We have quite a few guys coming back next year. Most of them already know the system so I expect them to be able to contribute in a major way,” he said. “We’ll be ready. We’re starting to work out right away and hopefully we could build off the success we had this season and go all the way next year.”

Game One of the finals between the Strikers and the Shockers will get underway tomorrow. Game Two is set for next Monday.

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