ALBANY, NY - The Federation Class "AA" Semifinal on Friday afternoon between Christ the King and Cardozo set up as a battle for supremacy between the PSAL and the CHSAA, but it was also a battle between Queens schools.
While there were many storylines, the ultimate goal was the win, and though most considered the Judges the underdog, they fought and scrapped and held a lead late, but a big shot by Royals sophomore Rawle Alkins brought the game to overtime, and then Cardozo struggled in the extra session, and CK grinded out a hard fought 54-51 overtime win in the Federation semis from the Times Union Center.
"We were resilient," Christ the King coach Joe Arbitello said. "We made the plays that mattered down the stretch, and in March you know the phrase, win and survive."
Early on though, it was looking like a CK easy victory, as they had a 20-10 lead early in the 2nd quarter, but Cardozo wasn't going to just give in so easily, and a lot of the toughness that the Judges showed in fighting back was because they wanted to prove a point that they had a chance in this game.
"Everyone counted us out. At our hotel everyone was picking Christ the King in a blowout, so when we got down early I just kept thinking about that and making sure that didn't happen," Cardozo senior forward Francisco Williams said.
Rashond Salnave, the Judges hot shot sophomore was the key in getting Cardozo back in it though, as the guard scored 10 straight points for his team as they eventually got the game even at 22 near the end of the half, but Alkins scored on a runner in the lane late, and that was followed by a Yashawn Bright putback at the halftime buzzer to see the Royals go up 26-22 at the break.
Arbitello admitted that in most games, with a lead at the half, he would be confident in his team's chances if closing it out, but he said that in this one, he wasn't, he felt his team wasn't playing its best, and he was leery of how well Cardozo was playing against his squad.
While the 3rd quarter played out pretty much the way the first half did, with Alkins knocking down a fade away jumper to see the Royals take a 39-36 lead after three, the 4th would prove to be a very different story.
Cardozo seemed more aggressive, and like they wanted it more, and with 3:12 left in the game, the Judges took their first lead when senior forward Carl Balthazar, who was stepping up with a big final 8 minutes, knocking down a pair of FT's, the lead grew to 48-43 with 2:25 left when Salnave scored on a scoop, but even though they were down by 5, CK, having been in situations like this in the past, were determined to remain poised and focused.
"I looked up at the clock 4 times, there was 2 minutes left so I knew there was plenty of time," senior guard Andre Walker said.
They patiently waited for good shots, and played stifling defense against Cardozo, who did admit to tensing up a bit late in the game. Walker hit a pair of FT's to make it a three point game, and after a Bryler Paige steal, Alkins hit a straightaway three to tie it at 48 with 50 seconds to play, and in his eyes, it's a moment where he thrives for the ball.
"I live for clutch moments. I watch game winners and watch how guys create shots for themselves and try to add that to my game," Alkins said.
Junior guard Elijah McNeely missed a shot for Cardozo with 12 seconds to go, and it was CK that had the chance to win in regulation, but Walker missed a 12 footer at the buzzer, and the game was heading to OT tied at 48.
The Judges took an early 3 point lead in the OT session, but Salnave, who was clearly fatigued having not sat at all in the game, struggled to connect on jump shots that could've grown the lead for Cardozo. Senior CK big man Adonis Delarosa started to take over in the paint, and when Walker connected on a driving layup with 16 seconds to go in overtime, Christ the King had regained the lead back for good.
Salnave missed a good look with 5 seconds left, and Paige hit 2 FT's to seal it as a last second heads fell short, and Christ the King survived, 54-51 over Cardozo.
Alkins had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Royals, while Delarosa had 13 points and 6 boards as well in the win.
Salnave led all scorers with 20 points, but he shot 1 for 11 from behind the arc, a part of his game that usually thrives. McNeely added 12, and Williams had 11 in the loss.
It was heartbreak for Cardozo head coach Ron Naclerio, who admitted that it was a tough one for him, even though he wasn't sure beforehand it would be.
"The ball is going to bounce your way sometimes, and it bounced our way a lot this year, but ohhhh today," Naclerio said. "We had a tremendous year though and I am very proud."
Arbitello wasn't thrilled with the performance of his Royals either, but he understands that with one game left there isn't much he can do.
"There is one game left now so there is nothing I can say to try and make them play better by tomorrow," Arbitello said. "I won't harp on how horrible we played, that would be foolish because there is no time to correct it anyway."
It was a great win for CK, even if it wasn't pretty, as they now advance to face either Long Island Lutheran or Green Tech in Saturday night's Class "AA" Federation Championship game, but for now, Delarosa says it's good to know that his team proved the one thing he said he already knew.
"The CHSAA is the best league in NY, and we showed that today."
And for what happens tomorrow, Alkins says we will just have to see.
"No more promises or guarantees," Alkins said. "I'm going to let my game do the talking and hopefully tomorrow we can come out and get a 2nd straight Federation title."