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Columbus Sharks beat JFK 54-48

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Maybe it was the reality check the Christopher Columbus girls’ basketball team needed. The Sharks led most of the way, including by 15 points in the third quarter, but Martin Luther King Jr. had plenty of fight Saturday afternoon in the PSAL Girls’ Basketball ‘A’ Division Showcase.

The Knights caught all the way up by the end of the third and took three different leads stretching into the fourth quarter.

“I guess they needed a wake-up call,” Columbus coach Evelyn Ortiz said of her squad. “Any team can beat them and today it was close.” The Sharks responded in a big way. After Kenya Crusoe put MLK ahead by one point to start the fourth, Columbus rattled off a 15-2 run and went on to win 54-48 at the HS of Construction in Ozone Park, Queens. Junior forward Asia Wheeler led the way with 19 points and Aday Eguaze had 16 points.

“It’s crunch time,” Wheeler thought to herself when King got close.

Ortiz got into her team during that third-quarter stretch. The Sharks were lackadaisical on defense – and that has been their staple this season. Even Eguaze, a star on the school’s track team, wasn’t running back on defense.

“I told her, ‘You were the last person I expected to tell to hurry up,’” Ortiz said.

“We started slacking,” Eguaze admitted.

Columbus (14-0) hasn’t really been challenged this season, so facing a tough opponent in a tight game in the fourth quarter isn’t necessarily a bad thing – especially with the playoffs on the horizon.

“If not, we take everything for granted,” Eguaze said.

The Sharks did benefit from 5-foot-10 Shanade Berrien being absent for Martin Luther King (13-4). Berrien, who averages a double-double, was on the school’s senior ski trip. Her presence would have at least been an answer for Wheeler inside. Plus, without a few of their players, the Knights’ rotation had to change and that made for fatigued legs late in the game.

“They were just too long for us,” MLK coach Larry Williams said. … “By the end of the third quarter, our girls were tired.”

Crusoe was excellent, especially during that run to get King back in the game. She finished with 26 points. No one else was in double figures for the Knights, who were also about 15 minutes late for the 11 a.m. contest.

Columbus, despite a 2 ½-hour, four-train commute was early after leaving the Bronx at 7 a.m. And all the Sharks players were in the gym – more than can be said for almost every team playing in the event Saturday.

“They were here early,” Ortiz said. “That’s what I love about this team.”

Food and Finance 71, John Bowne 33: Jeannette Harris and Ashley Negron both had 14 points, Caleitha Berry had 11 points and Destiny Brito added 10 for Food and Finance, which was playing without high scorer Shanequa Lassiter and captain Ardaisha Hudson.

“It’s huge win,” coach Kinsley Kwateng said. “To win when you don’t have two starters is big. It shows us that we’re jelling.”

Bowne (13-3), which only had eight girls suited up, was last year’s PSAL Class A runner-up. Food and Finance (13-2) has only two losses – to ‘AA’ teams August Martin and Boys & Girls. The Seahawks get a rematch with the Kangaroos on Monday at the Mika/Crown Martin Luther King Jr. Classic at Medgar Evers College.

“This year, I think the playoffs are wide open,” Kwateng said. “We just want to make sure we’re one of the contenders.”

The Wildcats were definitely contenders last year, but a lack of conditioning, according to coach Bruce Bitterman, really hurt them against the Seahawks.

“The biggest factor was conditioning,” he said. “That won’t happen anymore. It’s embarrassing. ... We got what we deserved.”

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