BRONX, NY - Sunday's contest between Christ the King and Mt. Saint Michael began as a playoff game but ended up as a game changer.
The Royals were the heavy favorite but a due to a solid performance by Malik Gill, the Mountaineers, a Class A team last season, pulled the Class AA upset of the season, stunning CTK, 64-57, to advance to the CHSAA semifinals.
"The strategy was to stopOmar Calhoun, stop Jon Severe and play tough defense and make shots," said Gill who scored a game high 30 points along with 4 assists and 2 steals.
The Royals struck early as Severe (21 points) and Calhoun (16 points) scored in transition. Down, 11-4 early, Mountaineers head coach Thomas Fraher called a timeout with 4:37 left in the first quarter to steady his troops.
With Isaiah Lewis still grounded since last week, Gill applied defensive on Christ the King's new starting point guard Malik Harmon.
Perimeter shots by Mt. Saint Michael were not falling early. Gill took matters into his own hands and drove to basket for and and-1 followed by a pass to Omari Manhertz (13 points) to close the gap to 3 points with 3:20. A trey by Ed Correa (5 points) tied the game at 11 but Jordan Fuchs (10 points) quickly put the Royals back in front.
Free-throws by Calhoun would extend CTK's lead back to 5 with 1:38 left in the quarter but Gill would net a trifecta to close the quarter with Mt. Saint Michael only down 16-14.
Coach Tom Fraher said at that moment he saw the possibility of something special happening. "He hit a three early and I said to myself, this has the potential to be the Malik Gill show tonight because I've seen him do it before at Rose Hill," said Fraher. "He was fabulous."
Gill opened the quarter with an NBA range three and the Mountaineers had a 1 point lead. Fuchs put the Royals back out in front and an athletic basket by Severe off a Calhoun assist extended their lead to four. But Gill is a crafty guard, evidenced by a steal and a breakaway lay-up keeping Mount still within one at the 5 minute mark.
A charge on Calhoun put Mount in position to once again take the lead and Anthony Maestre (15 points) and Andrew Utate (5 points) would oblige. With 3:42 Mount was ahead 27-22.
Overaggressive, with 2:59 left in the half, CTK head Coach Joe Arbitello was forced to take out Calhoun who picked up his third foul and Mountaineers advantage increased to 7 points with 1:59 left in the half.
While Calhoun was on the bench, Gill was all in Severe's grill defensively and the Royals but Adonis Dela Rosa (4 points) would finally score for the Royals in the paint with 35 seconds. Gill would respond with his 15th point at the buzzer leaving the Royals in a 31-24 crevice to start the third.
A Manhertz dunk off a Maestre feed followed by a Correa floater pushed Mounts lead to 11 points early in the third. Fuchs seemed to be the only Royal who was effective offensively but Maestre would take Harmon off the dribble to put the Mountaineers up, 39-30 with 4:52 left in the quarter.
Calhoun, who only scored 7 first half points, hit a three-pointer from the top of the key which sliced the Mountaineers lead to six and sparked a Royals resurgence as James Coleman and Severe scored in transition. With 2:37 left in the third, the Royals whittled Mounts lead down to 39-37 points but was unable to change the scoreboard. Coleman drew a foul in the paint with 1:03 and a chance to tie but went 0-2 and Maestre drained a runner to put the Mountaineers up by four. Christ the King managed to pull within 2 points but once again Gill would drop a buzzer beating 3-ball to keep his team out in front, 44-39 to start the fourth.
An early basket by Gill off a pass from Maestre put Mount back up, 46-39 but Fuchs quickly erased that with an offensive rebound and putback.
Still down by five with 6 minutes, Calhoun would get striped and pick up his fourth foul with 5:31 left to play. An air ball and missed shot by Calhoun on the following possessions would be redeemed by Severe with a bank shot. "Don't quit on us now," yelled a Royals fan from the stands but with 4:20, Utate would score and Gill would draw a foul to put the Royals down 51-43.
Gill, who scored a game high 30 points, continued to be a hard guard in transition and Mount remained ahead by 6 points with 2:36 left to play. Severe kept the Royals in the hunt but they looked more like the prey as a Manhertz dunk gave the Mountaineers a 55-49 advantage.
Severe caused Gill to pick up his fourth and cut the Mountaineers lead to 4 points but neutralized that by fouling Utate who pushed their lead back to 6 with 1:30 left to play.
Harmon drew a foul with 54.7 left in regulation but after going 0-2, Severe would foul Manhertz who also go 0-2 for a net-net gain. A runner off the back board by Calhoun with 43.3 and the Royals were only down 57-53.
Both teams would exchange baskets as the Royals utilized a hack-a-Gill tactic down the stretch. Gill went 1-2 and with 24.5 second Calhoun would get to the line and cut the lead to 3 points but that would be as close as they'd get.
Although upsetting a team that has won or competed in the Federation NYS championships for the past few years is an incredible feat, Gill says his sights even higher."This was big game, a quarterfinal game but we're just getting started."
Mount St. Michael will face Holy Cross in the CHSAA semifinals on Thursday at St. John's University